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Assembly weighs moving municipal elections, putting question to public

Polling place
Riley Board
Voters fill out their ballots at the District 2 polling location on Aug. 16, 2022.

Kenai Peninsula voters could have the chance to weigh in on a change to local elections, which would move municipal voting to the same date as state elections in November. But last Tuesday, the Borough Assembly delayed its decision on whether to put that question to the public.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, municipal elections traditionally take place the first Tuesday of October, while state and national elections take place the first Tuesday in November. Kenai Assembly Member Richard Derkevorkian introduced a resolution that represents a first step toward changing that: an advisory vote.

“It would be placed on the ballot, and would ask the public if they’re interested in moving the regular municipal elections to align with the state election,” Derkevorkian explained. “This advisory vote takes no action. If it were to pass, the hope would be that the assembly would abide by the public’s wishes.”

The goal, he said, would be to change the election dates by 2024. And he said the point of the advisory vote is to gauge interest before diving into the labor-intensive process of changing the election date.

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Derkevorkian postponed the vote on the resolution to Aug. 1. The assembly still heard public testimony on that matter, which was mixed. Supporters of the change, like Loren Hollers, said holding all the elections on the same day could motivate voters and improve turnout, overall.

“Low turnout keeps things status quo, and we need people to get involved, people are just way more enthused about state and federal voting, and if we could get local on the same date, I think that would be a good step,” he said.

Gail Knupf is a poll worker from Kasilof. She said she can’t support the resolution, because she’s worried the already-understaffed polls would buckle from the pressure of two elections in one day.

“We do not see this as the best way to increase our voter turnout, and we’d like to look at other ways of doing it,” she said.

Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox pointed out that dual elections would double the poll workers they need, to about 600 people across the borough, and said that increase could be a tall order in small peninsula communities.

The assembly will take up the issue again at its Aug. 1 meeting. If the resolution passes, voters will be able to weigh in on the change at the next municipal election on Oct. 3.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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