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‘It’s a huge social event’ — Cooper Landing turns out for Election Day

community hall.jpg
Riley Board
Voters in Cooper Landing cast their ballots at the Cooper Landing Community Hall — a space that was built in 1950 and is a centerpiece for the community.

The polls in Cooper Landing opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday and were visited first by a brown bear, who walked across the Cooper Landing Community Hall parking lot early this morning.

After that, there was a steady stream of human voters at the polling spot — a log building off Bean Creek Road that houses events and town meetings for the community of 344 residents.

Tuesday was the second ranked-choice election for Alaskans, and poll workers in Cooper Landing said they were still handling lots of questions about the new system. Several voters passed through and ask whether they have to rank second, third or fourth choices.

“I just tell them it’s kind of like playing tic-tac-toe,” said Precinct Chair Janet Mitchell. “You have one in each column.”

Linda Gephardt, another Cooper Landing poll worker, said voters are still making some mistakes.

“We’ve had a few destroyed ballots and ballots that had to be redone,” Gephardt said. “But in general, more people are comfortable with it this time than in the primary.”

Outside the polls, many voters said it’s an honor to vote.

“I think everybody should vote," said Lauren Discipio. “I think it should be a day off, for everybody, personally.”

Discipio said she was particularly motivated to come out today because she’s supporting a constitutional convention for Alaska on Ballot Measure 1. She said she’s here to vote for conservative issues.

“I think I just wanted to come out here to say ‘Let’s Go Brandon,’” she said. “And I think that our country has got to get back on track fast.”

Another voter, Dave Westerman, said he came out to support candidates who won’t contribute to partisan bickering.

“I usually vote anyway, but I’m more motivated today than I was four years ago or eight years ago,” Westerman said. “I’m bothered by the rhetoric going on between the two parties. It’s getting too violent.”

In Cooper Landing, workers said operating the polls is also a social event.

Gephardt said it’s a great chance to catch up with people, and throughout the afternoon, poll workers traded stories with voters about what their grown children are up to. Voters brought in treats for the poll workers — which today included a plate of cookies adorned with Alaska “I Voted” sticker prints.

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Riley Board
Cookies made by Cooper Landing community member Marja Beltrami for the town's poll workers.

The poll workers know almost everyone who comes in by name.

“Everybody visits, and well ‘What have you been doing?’” and, ‘“Are you traveling this winter?’” It’s a huge social event, because people do come out,” Gephardt said.

Cooper Landing usually sees good voter turnout.

Mitchell has been the precinct chair of the Cooper Landing polling location for 20 years. She said the Community Hall gets between 125 and 150 voters during the average general election — more than 40 percent of the town’s year-round population. By noon, there were already 57 voters.

“It’s such a neat community, because everyone just kind of flows along,” she said. “We get maybe a 10-minute break here or there.”

While some rural communities in the state struggled to staff their local precincts this election, Mitchell said she’s never had trouble finding poll workers in Cooper Landing.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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