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Municipal election day caps weeks of early voting

Sabine Poux/KDLL

You could not ask for a better, more bluebird afternoon for some election-day sign-waving. Around noon today, a dozen or so Kenai candidates and supporters were doing just that.

“There’s been honking. I think positive honking,” said Henry Knackstedt, a candidate for Kenai City Council. He was stationed out on the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Bridge Access Road today, encouraging passersby to hit the polls. He already voted absentee.

Knackstedt is one of three candidates running for the two open spots on the Kenai City Council. His opponents, Teea Winger and incumbent Tim Navarre, were also stationed on that street corner this afternoon. 

Election-day sign-waving takes place every year. But this campaign season was anything but normal.

Knackstedt said he’s used to going door to door for votes.

“Oh, gosh, it’s a lot different,” he said. “I mean, the social functions that might have happened that I would’ve gone to — I went to the chamber, I think was the only real social function that I went to when we did the debate. As opposed to all the other ones that we’d normally have. I’d be knocking on doors. It’s been a little more of driving down the road, when I’m putting out signs, see somebody out in their yard and say, ‘Hi, I’m Henry.’”

Navarre said he thinks the lack of in-person campaigning has made it harder for people to get to know the candidates. 

“I don’t always do a flyer, but this year I did a flyer,” he said. “It’s not the way for people to really get to know the candidates or understand the issues, ’cause they look to the campaign to help them make up their minds and there wasn’t as great of an opportunity to do that.”

Winger said the pandemic didn’t really change the way she campaigned because she doesn’t like going door to door, anyway. She’s having a results party tonight for those who have helped with her campaign.

Judging by the number of people with “Winger for Council” signs at that street corner alone, she’s had a lot of support.

“I have people that I’ve met through the years,” she said. “My family’s been a big support for me. Friends from high school, people I’ve just met that just literally walk up and grab a sign. So it’s been great.”

Mike McBride was standing a few feet away from Winger, holding candidate signs for Richard Derkevorkian, one of three candidates for the Kenai seat on the borough assembly, and Charlie Pierce, the incumbent candidate for borough mayor. He said he was also there to support Winger.

“That’s the reason that I have selected these candidates to support, is because I think that they best will represent the people,” he said. “And if you remember your American government lesson, you know, it’s supposed to be all about ‘We, the people.’ You know, not government of the government for the government by the government. Which we get a lot these days.”

Also running for the Kenai assembly seat are Jim Duffield and incumbent Hal Smalley. Duffield withdrew from the race but not in time for the ballot to be changed.

By noon, Smalley, who was out at the same intersection, had already had quite the day.

“I got here about 7:00 this morning. I’ll be here off and on,” he said. “I’m going to probably leave for about an hour, I’ve got some errands to run. And then I’ll be back and then I’m going to start pulling signs at about 6:00 tonight.

This was Smalley’s first time voting by mail. He said it was quick and easy and that instructions were very clear. Susan Smalley, who was on the same corner holding signs, also voted by mail.

“I voted by mail so long ago that this morning I had a little panic attack because I couldn't remember for sure if I had voted,” she said, laughing.

This year, the borough sent absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters. Both the borough and the cities saw large by-mail turnout.

Smalley said she and Navarre were wondering how much signs do when many have already voted. 

“The tradition in our community is to stand out and hold signs the night before and then the day of,” she said, “and when I was visiting with Tim Navarre, we were discussing what good it does anyway, and usually it’s to remind people — I think few people choose you by your ability to wave a flag or a sign — but also now it’s different because so many people have already voted. And so, it’s just a different thing.”

“And tonight, we are likely to not know the outcome of the election, which we always do,” she added.

Down the street at the Kenai Mall, people were voting, just not as many as usual.

Still, it was more than expected, said Carol Freas, retired Kenai city clerk and chair of Kenai Precinct 1.

“We’ve been really surprised by how many voters have come in,” she said. “The last time I looked it was about 315, but you split that in half because we have two ballots going.”

Those two ballots are the borough ballot and the city ballot.

Overall, Freas said the number of voters they get each year depends on what’s on the ballot.

Freas has been scrubbing down tables and chairs after people vote. The borough did not make such measures mandatory but Freas and her team are doing them, anyway.

Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL
Poll workers at the Kenai Mall sanitized voting stations after each use today. Above, Kenai Precinct 1 chair Carol Freas.

Even so, a few regular poll workers opted not to work this election.

“I had usually, I think, two other people who normally work and didn’t want to work this year because of the COVID issue,” she said.

Voters have been turning out in Soldotna, too, though this afternoon there were fewer sign holders there than in Kenai. At about 1:30 p.m. on the intersection of the Spur and Sterling highways, there were about eight, all for Charlie Pierce.

That’s probably because the three Soldotna City Council and mayoral candidates are running unopposed.

It certainly wasn’t for any civic apathy. Over at the Soldotna Library, the parking lot was packed with voters. Forrest Henry said he voted in person because he’s worried about voter fraud.

“I get it, that the mailing system is necessary for some individuals, but the way they’re pushing the voting system now just leaves too much in the hands of people who don’t necessarily have the interest of the people at heart,” he said.

Five borough communities have voted exclusively by mail for the last 10 years. Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship has said that there has never been a successful case of voter fraud.

Henry said he’s mostly voting today to weigh in on Proposition 2, a ballot measure that, if passed, would repeal the current hybrid vote-by-mail system.

Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL
The candidates for Soldotna City Council and Soldotna mayor are running unopposed this election.

  Tim Walker also said he’s worried about voter fraud with mail-in voting.

“I think voting in person is important for the aspect of … we don’t really know what’s happening with the mail-in, and I just wanted to be able to do it in person and make sure my vote counts in the proper way,” he said.

Walker is optimistic about Soldotna’s future.

“I think things look good here,” he said. “I am hopeful that we’ll continue getting through this pandemic. I work for the hospital, and so we’ve been having to stay very vigilant. But I think things are going really well.”

Linda Story, another voter at the library, said she was excited to vote for Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who’s also running for borough mayor. She was pleased with how orderly and clean things were inside the polling place.

As to why she chose to vote in person this year: “I’m close, and it was easier, and it’s a nice day,” she said. 

Polls close at 8 p.m., though it’s possible results for some races will not be announced until later, since so many people voted absentee this year. We’ll be keeping you updated with results as they roll in.

Sabine Poux is the news director at KDLL. Originally from New York, she's lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things central peninsula but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at
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