Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer addresses election information and misinformation during a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (Screenshot)

Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer addresses election information and misinformation during a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (Screenshot)

With a week to go, officials work to clear up election confusion

Officials provided updated ballot statistics, fielded questions from reporters and clarified misconceptions about the current election cycle

With less than a week to go before Alaska’s 2022 primary election, state election officials are working to clear up misinformation and voter confusion.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai held a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon in which they provided updated ballot statistics, fielded questions from reporters and clarified misconceptions about the current election cycle.

“With a new way of voting and with new districts (and) new precincts — a lot of folks have new areas that we’re asking them now to go to vote — I am concerned that there could be some confusion, and we are getting many calls in the Division of Elections,” Meyer said.

So far this election cycle, Meyer said about 6,600 Alaskans have already voted early. That’s compared to a total of about 8,000 Alaskans who voted early in 2018. Similarly, more than 23,000 Alaskans have voted absentee this year, compared to about 10,000 in 2018, Meyer said.

Meyer encouraged any Alaska voter who ordered and received an absentee ballot to return their completed ballot as soon as possible. Unlike Alaska’s June 11 special primary election, the Aug. 16 special general and regular primary election is not a by-mail election.

“We’re not going to send you a ballot unless you requested an absentee ballot, which actually needed to be requested for this primary by Aug. 6,” Meyer said.

New districts

All registered voters in the State of Alaska were sent new Voter ID cards that show their new district and polling place information, according to the Division of Elections. Alaska’s legislative district boundaries were redrawn using updated population data collected during the 2020 U.S. Census.

Former State Senate District O is now State Senate District D. District D includes the Kenai/Soldotna area and covers the northern half of the Kenai Peninsula with borders extended to above Tustumena Lake. That district is currently represented by Peter Micciche, who has said he will not run for reelection. Jesse Bjorkman and Tuckerman Babcock are both running for the seat.

Former State House District 30 is now State House District 7 and includes most of Kenai, Soldotna and Kalifornsky. That seat is currently held by Ron Gillham, who is running for reelection against Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge.

Former State House District 29 is now State House District 8 and includes the Kenai Peninsula north of Tustumena Lake and east of Kasilof. It includes Bear Creek, but not Seward, which is in State House District 5 and State Senate District C. That district is currently represented by Ben Carpenter, who is running unopposed for reelection.

Early and absentee in-person voting

Early voting for the Aug. 16 election opened on Aug. 1. There are multiple places where voters can vote early or absentee in-person on the Kenai Peninsula.

Soldotna Prep School, located at 426 W Redoubt Ave. in Soldotna, offers early voting and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. That location has ballots for State House districts 5, 6, 7 and 8.

The Homer City Clerk’s Office, located at 491 E Pioneer Ave. in Homer, offers early voting and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. That location has ballots for State House districts 5, 6, 7, 8 and 37.

Absentee in-person voting is also available at the Kenai City Clerk’s office at 210 Fidalgo Avenue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. That location has ballots for State House district 5, 6, 7 and 8.

A double-sided ballot

The Aug. 16 ballot is two-sided.

On one side of the Aug. 16 ballot, voters will rank candidates vying to fill the remainder of the late Don Young’s term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Candidates will rank candidates Nick Begich III, Sarah Palin and Mary Peltola on that side of the ballot using Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system.

On the other side of the ballot, Alaskans will vote in the state’s regular primary election. For each race, voters will vote for one candidate. This year’s primary races include those for U.S. senator, U.S. representative and governor and lieutenant governor, as well as for seats in the Alaska Legislature.

Candidates running for the U.S. House on the regular primary side of the ballot are running for the next two-year term of Alaska’s at-large seat in the U.S. House. That term is different from the one that ends in 2023 and that Don Young was to finish out.

New voting systems

Changes to Alaska’s electoral systems were approved by voters as Ballot Measure No. 2, which passed narrowly in 2020 with 50.55% of votes cast. That measure created an open primary system and ranked choice general election and aimed to increase transparency about the use of “dark money” — or campaign funding from undisclosed sources — in Alaska elections.

Through open primaries, all voters will vote the same primary ballot regardless of their political party. The top four vote-getters from the primary will then move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. If there are fewer than four candidates running in the primary, all will move to the general election, which will use ranked choice voting.

The ranked choice ballot shows a grid of bubbles, with one row for each candidate and one column for preference order. Voters fill in the bubble in the “1st Choice” column that corresponds to their first-choice candidate. Voters then move to the second column and fill in the bubble that corresponds to their second-choice candidate, and so on. Voters can rank up to four candidates, or just rank one, two or three candidates.

If a candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, that candidate would be declared the winner of the election.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate who received the least number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Then, the voters who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first choice would have their second-choice candidate votes distributed to the remaining candidates. The process will continue until one candidate emerges with more than 50% of the votes.

Fenumiai encouraged voters who have questions about the Aug. 16 primary election to seek out information directly from the Alaska Division of Elections. More information about redistricting, ranked choice voting, open primaries and early voting can be found on the division’s website at elections.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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