Voter turnout was comparatively high in this year’s municipal election, due in part to to more than double the amount of absentee ballots usually cast in an October election. The Kenai Peninsula Borough sent out absentee applications to every registered voter this year.
The borough counted over 4,500 absentee ballots this weekend, yielding an overall voter turnout rate of 28 percent. The last two municipal elections saw voting rates around 18 percent.
But by a three-to-two ratio, residents voted to repeal the hybrid vote-by-mail system, represented on the ballot by Proposition 2. More than 8,400 voted to repeal that system, while around 5,600 voted to keep it.
There were several reasons for the high voter turnout, said borough Clerk Johni Blankenship.
“It’s probably a combination of things — the absentee application campaign, because we did have a lot of people who responded to that, as well as it being a presidential election year, so that gets people thinking more about elections," she said. "And then, of course, the mayor’s race on top of that.”
Blankenship said the highest number of absentee ballots the borough has ever seen was around 2,000, back when cannabis sales were on the table.
“Basically, just looking at the 10-year average, the only other year that’s higher in the last 10 years was in 2017 when we had the marijuana question," she said." For just an average mayor’s race year, this definitely was about an 8 to nine 9 increase in the overall turnout.”
The five borough districts that always vote exclusively by mail stayed true to form with the highest voter turnout. Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Hope were the highest among those districts, at around 32 percent.
While some votes might roll in tomorrow, the final day for absentee ballots to be counted, Blankenship says there will likely only be a handful. Results are therefore still “unofficial,” but are unlikely to change much before they are finalized.
Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is now leading challenger Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings by 53 percent to 42 percent, a difference of over 1,500 votes. At last count he was leading by 2,000 votes.
The margin between candidates in the Borough Assembly District 2, Kenai race also shifted. Last week, incumbent Hal Smalley was hoping he could pull ahead of newcomer Richard Derkevorkian, who was leading with 100 votes. Derkevorkian is still leading, but with a smaller gap — a difference of only 26 votes, or 2 percentage points.
The city of Kenai will begin tabulating absentee ballots tomorrow for the city election, said Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz. Teea Winger, Henry Knackstedt and Tim Navarre are vying for two seats on the council, with Winger and Knackstedt garnering the most votes last week.