Voters on the central Kenai Peninsula braved brisk temperatures and rainy roads Tuesday as they showed up to polls to cast their ballots in the 2022 municipal election.
Up for consideration this year were city council, board of education and assembly seats, as well as a handful of propositions affecting borough schools, emergency services and legislative representation. Polls closed at 8 p.m. with election certification scheduled for Oct. 11.
City of Kenai mayoral candidates Brian Gabriel, who is running for reelection, and Teea Winger, who currently serves on the Kenai City Council, stood on the same corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road waving signs. Through the wind and the rain, only the two candidates and some of their closest supporters were out at that time.
Winger and her team were dressed in heavy jackets and raincoats, while Gabriel and his wife, Lisa, huddled together under an umbrella. Both candidates said they were out early, Winger since polls opened at 7 a.m. and Gabriel since 8 a.m., and said they were feeling good about the state of the election.
“I’m feeling a little wet right now,” Gabriel said. “I feel like I should be duck hunting.”
For Winger, waving signs is a family affair. She said she brought her kids to wave signs at the same location on Monday night.
“It’s important to have the support of our family,” Winger said.
At around the same time in Soldotna, Joshua Thomas, Becca Satathite and Spencer McLean were waving signs at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways in support of Proposition 3. That proposition would construct a new primary fire station for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna. The first iteration of the current Station 1, which acts as a hub for other CES stations, was built in the 1950s.
Thomas said the cohort was there on behalf of Soldotna Professional Firefighters, a nonprofit organization composed of CES firefighters. Among the station’s current shortcomings, Thomas said, is the limited bay space for vehicles, outdated plumbing and heating and insufficient room for staff.
“Everything is kind of outdated,” Thomas said of the current station.
On McLean’s back was his daughter, Emma, who was bundled in mittens and a hot pink jacket. While cars honked intermittently in support, he waved a sign reading “Vote yes on Prop 3 – For new CES Station 1.” Other signs read “Support your firefighters” and “Vote yes on Prop 3.”
“We appreciate their support on all things, including this,” Thomas said of voters. “It’s great to have a community that likes their fire department.”
At the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, veteran election worker Kathy Carson said at around 1:15 p.m. that while there had been a steady stream of voters casting ballots throughout the day, voting overall was “down a little bit” this year. About 125 ballots had been cast by that time at the K-Beach precinct; Carson said they were expecting between 500 and 600 by the end of the day.
“I think it depends on what’s running,” Carson said of the turnout so far. “It’s sort of issue-driven, I think, or candidate-driven sometimes.”
Carson, who has been helping run borough elections for more than 30 years, said that, for example, the Aug. 16 primary was “crazy busy.” Voters during that election cast ballots in state and federal races, including the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Don Young, which Mary Peltola won.
In reflecting on more than three decades of Kenai Peninsula election service, Carson described voting as a freedom that people sometimes take for granted. She said she gets particularly excited about helping new voters cast their ballots and when voters arrive at her precinct she is “the happiest person in the world.”
“I believe in the voting process and what it can achieve,” Carson said. “It’s a freedom that’s taken for granted a lot of times, and I just don’t do that. I don’t take it for granted.”
Election workers in Kenai and in Nikiski reported a similarly unremarkable voter turnout, but expected an evening rush at the end of the work day.
At Kenai Precinct No. 2, located in the Challenger Learning Center, poll worker Barb Norbeck said around 1 p.m. that things were “slow, but steady.” She did not expect the poor weather, she said, to affect turnout.
“Even with the weather not cooperating,” she said. “They’re coming out.”
Jodie Titus, who has helped run elections for more than two decades, was working at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Tuesday. That building was home to the borough’s Nikiski and Salamatof precincts, where Titus reported average turnout after a slow morning. Like Carson, she said turnout typically depends on what appears on the ballot.
“It just kind of depends on what the issues are, and who’s up,” Titus said.