With the bulk of absentee and questioned ballots from Tuesday’s run-off election for borough mayor counted, Charlie Pierce maintains a slim lead over Linda Hutchings.
The borough clerk will count any ballots that arrive with Monday and Tuesday’s mail, and the election is close enough — 4,296 votes for Pierce, 4,245 for Hutchings, a difference of 51 votes — that there is the potential to swing the results the other way.
However, there’s another number Kenai Peninsula residents also should be concerned with: 19 percent. While that number could increase with the arrival of more absentee ballots, that’s the voter turnout for the run-off election.
Now, Tuesday’s run-off is probably not the best example to use when talking about voter engagement as it coincided with the first snowfall of the season. Slippery roads likely kept some voters from the polls, and it’s hard to blame anybody who didn’t want to be out on the roads in that mess.
And, as of Friday, the borough clerk had counted 1,656 absentee ballots, indicating that a fair number of people were thinking ahead.
But turnout for any election tends to hover between 20 and 25 percent across the borough.
So, the better question to ask is whether the 25 percent of borough residents who regularly participate in elections are a fair representation of all borough residents. In other words, is the typical borough voter, politically speaking, also the typical borough resident?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, just looking at election results. For example, peninsula voters rejected Proposition 3, which would have increased the cap on the amount of a sale subject to borough tax from $500 to $1,000, 59.7 percent to 40.3 percent.
With the budget as the major issue leading up the run-off, Pierce took a hard stance against the measure, pointing out that Hutchings supported it. Yet the run-off results are an almost even split — how much of that can be attributed to how candidates have said they’d handle the borough’s budget?
One thing that is clear: barring more than 1,500 ballots arriving Monday and Tuesday, whoever wins the run-off will do so with fewer votes than he or she received in the three-way race on Oct. 3 — Pierce collected 5,489 votes in the regular election to Hutchings’ 4,604.
To answer our own question, we can only assume, based on the consistency of the borough’s voter turnout, that those who don’t vote are generally satisfied with the decisions being made — or don’t feel those decisions are affecting them.
If that’s not the case, there is an obvious solution. With just 51 votes currently separating the candidates, every vote makes a difference, and when fewer people vote, each ballot cast has even more weight.
There’s been lots of talk recently about undue influence in elections. Want a legitimate way to influence an election? All you need to do is vote.