On the first day of early voting on Monday, 3,300 Alaskans statewide cast their ballots, including 142 in Homer — a sign of high interest in the presidential election. As we count down to election day on Nov. 8, Alaskans have become caught up in one of the most intense presidential campaigns ever. Like a superquake rocking Alaska, the political landscape has been rattled.
Both of Alaska’s Republican senators, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, have pulled support for their party’s candidate, Donald Trump — but they’re not voting for Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, either. Murkowski’s Libertarian Party opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Joe Miller, also isn’t supporting his party’s candidate, Gary Johnson, and instead backs Trump.
Locally, Democratic Party District 31 Chair Taz Tally has thrown his support to Margaret Stock, running as an independent in the U.S. Senate race, and not to his party’s candidate, Ray Metcalfe, and Republican Party District 31 Chair Jesse Clutts resigned his seat to back third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
Election 2016 has caused a lot of discussion about the process of how we choose a president. In coffee houses, community forums, bars and around dinner tables, people have been asking these questions:
• How, when and where can we vote?
• Who’s voting?
• How will independent and third-party candidates affect the presidential and local races?
• What will voters disaffected by Trump or Clinton do?
• What are younger voters going to do in their first presidential election?
Early, in-person absentee, special needs and by-electronic transmission voting started Monday. Lower Kenai Peninsula voters can vote early in person 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 7 at Homer City Hall. Ballots are secured in a safe each night before being mailed to Juneau. Each day a ballot accountability account report is made, said Division of Elections Region 1 supervisor Lauri Wilson.
“There are so many ways folks can cast ballots,” said Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke of early voting. “This is one of them.”
Other ways include absentee voting by mail or electronic transmission voting. Touch Screen voting for visually impaired or other people wanting to use the machine is available on election day at voting precincts.
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot by mail is Saturday. The deadline to apply for an absentee by electronic transmission deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7. Voters can apply by fax or secure e-mail through electronic transmission. Visit the Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov for details. About 35,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, and 10,000 have already returned ballots.
While the deadline to register to vote has passed, Alaska law allows same-day registration for qualified voters at voting precincts. Voters can only vote in the presidential election, and would cast a questioned ballot.
For the Nov. 8 election, 528,717 Alaskans are registered to vote. In past years, voter registration numbers tended to be inflated, with peculiarities like the number of registered voters in a city exceeding the U.S. Census number of residents age 18 and older.
Senate Bill 9 has helped the Division of Elections tidy up voter rolls. Through the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, the state cross-checks voter registration in other states and vital statistics to remove voters who have moved or died. The law also allowed the division to identify about 85,000 potential voters based on records like Permanent Fund Dividend applications and send them postcards encouraging them to vote. About 11,000 new voters registered after the Alaska primary election in August.
“We’ve seen a big increase in voter registration. I think that can be attributed to our mailings,” Bahnke said.
There was one blip in voter information that happened when the Division of Elections sent out its voter information pamphlets: information from Donald Trump and Mike Pence wasn’t in the booklet.
“Was it on purpose or was it accidental?” asked Anchor Point Trump supporter Sue Williams in a phone call to the Homer News complaining of the omission.
In a press release, Bahnke explained that the division sent a letter on Aug. 2 to presidential and vice presidential nominees, using contact information from their certificate of nomination. The division sent a letter to the Republican National Committee associate counsel and also copied Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock. The division followed the same process in getting information from the other presidential and vice presidential candidates. It also didn’t get information from the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson.
Babcock said he didn’t see the letter, but he didn’t know if it had gone to the party’s Fireweed Avenue, Anchorage, address or a post office box. He said he appreciated that the division sent him a copy, but that it should have followed up more.
“I think Alaska should have a competent and thorough Division of Elections process. If I was there I would say, ‘We don’t have a presidential candidate; maybe we should call somebody.’”
He conceded that the Republicans had some responsibility in getting the Trump information to the Division of Elections.
“Everyone bears some responsibility for it not being in there: me, the campaign, the Republican National Committee,” he said. “You can’t let the campaign totally off the hook. You can’t let me totally of the hook.”
At a community forum, 2016 Election, held last Thursday evening at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, about 35 people discussed how and whether people should vote and what Americans should do after the election and whatever the result.
Retired high school teacher Alex Koplin helped organize the effort and lawyer Andy Haas moderated.
Koplin and Homer City Council member Catriona Reynolds both made a push for voting early.
“Those absentee ballots are important because they can change an election,” Koplin said.
Voting early takes the worry out of missing the election, Reynolds said.
“What if something happens?” she said.
Voting independent or for a minor party has become attractive this year. District 31 Democratic Party Chair Taz Tally said one issue he has is with what he described as the nonfunctioning nature of the current Congress.
“They’re not doing their job,” he said. “I think that one of our solutions is independent candidates.”
Although a Democratic Party leader, Tally has thrown his support to Stock, the independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Murkowski, running for re-election. With Joe Miller is running as a Libertarian, the race could make Stock a contender, even if she only gets 35 percent of the vote, Tally said.
Zachary Casey challenged the idea of gridlock in Congress as a bad thing.
“It’s functioning exactly the way we want it to function,” Casey said. “Americans like that. If they didn’t like that, they wouldn’t vote that way.”
Jeff Middleton disagreed with that perspective.
“When I was growing up, people compromised. They got things done,” he said. “That’s (gridlock) not a functional government in my opinion.”
Haas noted how people like to sort themselves into like groups — by going to the same churches or the same bars and hanging out with like-minded people. Liz Diament said she sees that in her Facebook friends list.
“In my world, everybody’s voting a certain way,” she said.
Steve Riedel said he has an expanded network on social media. “I have all these uber-conservative people as my Facebook friends,” he said. “If you get one little feed in the cube, that’s your fault. Everyone needs to search out the goofballs.”
Homer High School Senior Michelle Lee, part of a group of high school students who attended the forum, made a pitch for more centrist voters. Most voters tend to be left or right, she said.
“The problem isn’t who’s voting. The problem is who isn’t voting,” she said.
According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com analysis of 26 Alaska polls as of Oct. 24, Trump has a 46.6 percent of Alaska’s votes with Clinton just behind at 40.9 percent of votes. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson holds only 10.6 percent of Alaska’s votes. Similarly, an Alaska telephone poll on Oct. 5-6 of 500 likely voters completed by Moore Information shows Trump with 37 percent of the vote, Clinton with 34 percent of the vote, and Johnson with 10 percent of the vote.
While many of Alaska’s Republican elected officials have denounced Trump after audio of Trump making demeaning comments about women made national headlines, they are also tight lipped on their alternative candidate.
Murkowski, who is running for re-election this November, and Sullivan both called for Trump to leave the presidential race after a 2005 video surfaced in which Trump talked about grabbing and kissing women, as well as other lewd comments.
Murkowski said that she is unsure of how she will vote, but that she cannot support either Clinton or Trump, according to an Associated Press article titled “Murkowski: Presidential race causing down-ballot uncertainty” published Oct. 18. Murkowski said she gave Trump a chance to earn her vote but after many missteps over the course of the campaign, she has decided she does not want the leader of the country “setting an example that is not one that holds the values that I think that we should have as a nation.”
When asked for further comment on the presidential election, Murkowski’s Communications Director Robert Dillon said that Murkowski’s current focus is on Alaska.
Sullivan withdrew his support for Trump’s presidency in a statement on Oct. 8, in which he called for Trump to step down from the presidential race and endorsed Gov. Mike Pence for president. Pence is currently Trump’s vice presidential candidate.
Trump’s attitude toward women is in conflict with Sullivan’s work to combat sexual and domestic violence, which is inspired by his three teenage daughters and his wife, he said.
“I’ve worked to encourage men to choose respect and change the culture of abuse against women and children, which is at epidemic levels in Alaska and many parts of the country,” Sullivan said. “We need national leaders who can lead by example on this critical issue. The reprehensible revelations about Donald Trump have shown that he can’t.”
Sullivan said he cannot support Clinton because of his “love (for) Alaska and our country.”
“(Clinton) and her husband have their own sordid history of abuse of women. Further, her stated policies will undermine Alaska’s economic future and our constitutional rights,” Sullivan said.
His focus is now on campaigning for Republican candidates in the Alaska and United States Senate races in order to maintain the Republican Senate majority for the sake of the state’s and country’s economic and national security, Sullivan said.
State Sen. Gary Stevens said he will not enter into the discussion over the presidential candidate, except to say that he is pleased in both the Democrat and Republican parties’ choices in “strong vice presidential candidates.” Stevens will vote in the election, but is keeping his choice to himself.
“That’s of course a secret ballot and I’m not endorsing anyone publicly,” Stevens said. “The public will vote and whoever is the president, I will support them.”
Rep. Paul Seaton did not respond to a request for comment.
Murkowski and Sullivan, who were both full members on the Republican Party State Central Committee, were asked to resign when they revoked their support from Trump. It is required that members of the state central committee support the Republican nominees on the ticket, said Tuckerman Babcock, chair of the state Republican Party. The senators will be invited back on the central committee, as well as central committee officers who went for Miller.
Congressman Don Young hasn’t come out publicly and campaigned against Trump.
“You’re not required to beat the drums. You’re just required to say I’m not against them,” Babcock said.
Alaska Democrats have a right to consider supporting candidates, regardless of party affiliation, according to a Jan. 23 press release that announced a change to the party’s bylaws to allow independent candidates to run for the party’s nomination.
On the issue of third-party candidates, Heather Dubolt said at the 2016 Election forum there was value in voters selecting them even if they didn’t have a chance of winning.
“To say a third party vote is wasted isn’t true,” she said.
Dubolt said votes for third-party candidates can help increase their status with things like getting on ballots or being invited to presidential debates.
She also suggested a way for people to get out of their bubbles.
“Maybe everybody should invite somebody over to dinner they wouldn’t invited to dinner,” she said.
“Carry it a step further,” said Frank Regnier, who helped organize the forum. “Make a date on election morning — have coffee together and suggest we ride together to the polls.”
Homer High School held a mock election in which Trump took the lead as the winner, said Homer High School social studies teacher Michelle Borland. The school had 75 percent voter turnout, however the majority of the school’s population is not of legal voting age for the actual national election. Borland declined to comment on if the results of the high school’s mock election might reflect the greater Homer community’s candidate preference.
“It’s a contentious election and an unusual election and it’s been difficult to teach on,” Borland said.
Eighteen-year-old Maria Kulikov is considering voting for a third-party candidate as she has no interest in giving her vote to either Trump or Clinton, both of whom she feels only care about their money.
“They’re both terrible people. They’re both really awful,” Kulikov said. “It’s kind of like, voting for Trump would be completely against everything I believe in and voting for Hillary (Clinton) feels like going against everything I believe in. I’m big on politics but I’m really not big on our presidential candidates right now. They’re kind of just jack—–.”
Homer High School student Denver Waclawski had an idea for continuing the civic tradition after the elections.
“Creating good government is not paying attention during the election, but while they’re in office,” Waclawski said. “It would be beneficial to foster a culture that embraces a constant awareness of our government and what it does to us.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.