elections

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal election falls on next Tuesday, with candidates running for school board and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, among other local offices.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

When it comes to its new voting machines, the borough is making a list and checking it twice.

Teri Birchfield and Linda Cusack with the canvass board were running through a checklist of tests Thursday morning on one of the borough's new Dominion Voting Systems machines.

They said most voters won’t register the new technology when they come in to cast their ballots. But for voters with disabilities, it could be game changing.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will go through with purchasing and leasing several ADA-compliant voting machines, six years after a complaint from a vision-impaired Homer man triggered a reassessment of voting accessibility on the peninsula.

The plan to buy several Dominion Voting Systems machines and lease over two dozen others was primarily a response to that complaint. But it became controversial when former President Donald Trump and his followers made Dominion a target late last year, claiming the 2020 election was rigged.

There’s a large slate of candidates running for the three open seats on the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors this year.

On the Central Kenai Peninsula, there are four candidates are running for the District 1 seat, to represent Kenai, Nikiski and part of Soldotna. They are Mike Chenault, Erik Hendrickson, Wayne Ogle and Joseph Ross.

Two candidates are on the ballot for District 2, which represents Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof. Those candidates Ed Schmitt and Robert Wall.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Since the November 2020 election, lawmakers in states across the country have ramped up efforts to change election laws, making it more difficult for people to vote. This week, the Georgia House passed an election bill that would limit early voting. An Alaska state senator has proposed a bill to limit by-mail voting throughout the state.

Next month, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will hear an ordinance that would make it easier for borough residents to vote. The borough is planning to buy seven ADA-compliant voting machines and lease 26 others, geared to help voters who are visually impaired.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, leading candidates for the Kenai Peninsula’s state House and Senate races can finally declare victory.

The Alaska Division of Elections finished counting the absentee ballots received for several districts this weekend, including District 29, where Rep. Ben Carpenter is on track for reelection, and District 30, where newcomer Ron Gillham has secured the seat previously occupied by Rep. Gary Knopp.

There is still a chance some absentee ballots arrive from overseas before Nov. 18. But those would only amount to a few, if any, said Tiffany Montemayor of the Division of Elections. Results remain “unofficial” until certification later this month.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

Election results as of 9:30 p.m., with 29 of 29 precincts reporting:

Mayor Charlie Pierce leads Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings 59.53 percent to 36.39 percent, with Troy Nightengale garnering 3.74 percent.

For Borough Assembly District 2 Kenai, challenger Richard Derkevorkian is leading incumbent Hal Smalley 48.67 to 37.75 percent, with Jim Duffield at 12.94 percent.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Tomorrow is municipal election day. But many Kenai Peninsula Borough residents have already voted.

In a typical year, around 300 to 500 people vote in borough elections by mail, said borough Clerk Johni Blankenship. This year, the borough sent out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the borough — about 3,000 — in mid-August. Blankenship says they have received about 2,000 back.

As of this morning, another 1,200 residents had voted early in person. That’s consistent with prior years.

Voters on Oct. 6 have a rematch to settle for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor — incumbent Charlie Pierce or challenger Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Today marks two weeks until the borough’s municipal election day. It’s also National Voter Registration Day.

Borough residents have just started voting in person. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for that election is Sept. 29. 

For state and national elections, the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 4.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The last time Charlie Pierce and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings campaigned for the position of Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor, in 2017, voters were buzzing about the borough’s stance on cannabis legislation and the Pebble Partnership.

The center of attention this round, unsurprisingly, has been COVID-19. At today’s 2020 mayoral candidate forum, moderator Merrill Sikorski asked the candidates about their strategies for handling coronavirus and what they thought about funding for schools and deferred maintenance projects.

The forum was part of a luncheon held by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at the visitors’ center. Around 50 people attended.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce was an early proponent of opening Kenai back up following state-mandated coronavirus closures, and he spoke proudly of his position at the forum.

“I was the individual that took the lead in Marchm” Pierce said. “Following the very next day, after the governor reduced some of his mandates, I was out on the streets the very next day saying that I believe we’re all essential. I believe we’re open for business and I believe that’s the best way to save our businesses is to continue to keep government out and off of the backs of individuals in the way of taxation and the growth of government.”

Generally, Pierce said he thinks he’s done a pretty good job over the last three years. But when asked about what she would have done differently, Farnsworth-Hutchings said she would have handled borough issues “in a completely different way” than her opponent.

“I work very well one on one with everybody,” she said. “I believe in having management meetings once a week so that you can deal with all of your department heads, [seeing] what’s going on in their departments, and making sure that your employees feel like they are appreciated and are doing the most that they can do.”

Voter participation in the Kenai Peninsula Borough is not, usually, real impressive. In the past 10 years, voter turnout in municipal elections has ranged from a low of 13.35 percent to a high of 26.02 percent.

This year, COVID-19 could keep even more people away from the polls. For the municipal election coming up Oct. 6, the borough is taking an extra step to make it easier to vote in advance. 

The borough assembly directed the clerk’s office to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the borough. You should have gotten yours by now. They were sent Aug. 14.

Absentee voting is nothing new — it’s already allowed in the borough and state. You don’t even have to have a particular reason why you want to vote absentee. The only new thing this year is preemptively sending absentee applications in the mail. Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said that, so far, the response has been good. 

“It’s very successful, let me say that. That’s why I’m so busy. In an average year, we have between 300 and 500 applications. We are at the 2,000-application mark and we still have three weeks to go,” she said.

Peninsula primary results show some upsets

Aug 19, 2020

 Preliminary Primary Election results show close races and a number of upsets brewing across the state. On the Kenai Peninsula, there’s a little bit of that drama, even though two incumbent state representatives are running unopposed.

Alaska Legislature

Gary Knopp’s name will still appear on the Aug. 18 primary ballot. The Kenai Republican was among the seven killed in a midair collision early Friday morning just outside Soldotna. Knopp was seeking a third term in the state House, against fellow Republicans Ron Gillam and Kelly Wolf. The winner of the primary will face James Baisden, who registered as non-affiliated, in the general election.

In the middle of a year with a hotly contested state legislature election, congressional election, and presidential election, it can be easy to forget about municipal elections. But the Kenai Peninsula has those this year, too, with some major seats up for grabs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal candidate filing period opened today and runs through noon on August 17. The borough mayor’s office and three assembly seats, including the ones from Kenai, Sterling/Funny River, and Homer are up for election. The Board of Education has four seats up for election, including those representing Nikiski, Soldotna, East Peninsula, and Central. All of those are three-year terms.

The sponsors of the referendum to repeal the borough’s ordinance offering a vote-by-mail option have turned in their signatures.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office is still evaluating the petition booklets for validity. Borough clerk Johni Blankenship says they have until Aug. 6 to ensure that the petitioners gathered at least 1,362 valid signatures from Kenai Peninsula Borough voters.

Voters in the Kenai-Soldotna area will have a handful of candidates to choose from this fall when deciding who they want to represent them in the state House of Representatives. One caveat: they’re all conservative, and three are running in the primary on Aug. 18.

District 30 is currently represented by Gary Knopp, a two-term representative from Kenai. He’s running for a third term, but Ron Gillham of Ridgeway, Kelly Wolf of Kenai, and James Baisden of Kenai have all stepped forward to challenge him. Gillham and Wolf are running as Republicans in the primary, while Baisden is running as a nonpartisan candidate in the general.

Campaigning during a pandemic is going to look different this year. Gone are the days of big, in-person town halls and door-to-door canvassing. But that hasn’t stopped a full field of Kenai Peninsula candidates from setting their sights on the Legislature this fall.

House of Representatives District 29 covers Nikiski, part of Cooper Landing, Hope and Seward. First-term Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, is running for reelection. He’s got at least one challenger in the fall — Paul Dale, of Nikiski, who filed as a nonpartisan.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is looking at instituting voting by mail as early as the 2020 elections. Initially, the reason was part of a conciliatory agreement with the Alaska Human Rights Commission over a complaint that borough polling locations lacked accessibility. 

These days, the coronavirus pandemic is adding even more reason to pivot from in-person voting. The borough commissioned a feasibility study on voting by mail from Resource Data, Inc. Dennis Wheeler presented a summary in a work session for the assembly Tuesday. 

“Poll workers are not going to want to get together in confined areas where it’s difficult to social distance and deal with an influx of public to hand out ballots,” Wheeler said. “It’s something to think about — what impact would COVID have on your ability to staff up, as well as what are the voters going to do and how are they going to react.”

HEA ballots due soon

Apr 30, 2020

If you haven’t sent in your ballot for the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors, now is the time. HEA will announce the winners May 7.

Two candidates are running for a District 1 seat, covering Kenai, Nikiski and parts of Soldotna. Jim Duffield, of Kenai, comes from a financial background, having been an accountant and auditor. He is a shareholder and the managing member of JMJ Tax Relief in Kenai. Duffield says he would bring his financial background to serve on the board.

“The rates seem to have continually climbed steadily in the last few years,” Duffield said. “And I don’t feel like that’s really justified. And there’s been a number of good projects that they’ve gotten involved in that have paid off well for the company and for us as users, but there’s also some projects that have not worked out quite so well.”

In this week's show, we hear from candidates for the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors:
District 1: Jim Duffield and Erik Hendrickson

District 2: C.O. Rudstrom

District 3: Troy Jones, Pete Kinneen and Jim Levine

Find candidate resumes here.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly met Tuesday night for a five-hour marathon meeting in Soldotna. 

A sales tax ordinance was approved by unanimous consent, which makes the borough one of 23 communities in the state that are organizing to collect sales taxes from online purchases. It has been quite an undertaking, said assembly President Kelly Cooper.

“I just have to take a minute to thank our finance director for the, I don’t know how many months that this commission has been working on this. It’s been extremely complex,” Cooper said.

The assembly postponed action on an ordinance brought by the mayor, to allow for gated communities in the borough.

Quick campaign issued fine from state

Jan 15, 2020
Gavel to Gavel

 

Former Kenai Peninsula Borough Chief of Staff, John Quick, has been issued a fine from the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

ECON 919 - Mayoral candidates talk taxes, annexation

Dec 6, 2019

 

This week, the city of Soldotna will hold a special election for mayor on December 17th. The election comes a little more than three months after the unexpected death of former mayor Dr. Nels Anderson. Two candidates are in the race, former mayor Pete Sprague and Charlene Tautfest. They took on a range of local economic questions at a forum this week sponsored by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. 

 

 


Alaska Yes responds to state complaints

Oct 24, 2019

 

Alaska Yes, a political advocacy group on the Kenai Peninsula, has responded to a complaint filed against it by the state Public Offices Commission.

New assembly members sworn in

Oct 9, 2019
Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

 

A vote to change how some local service area boards are put together was postponed at Tuesday night’s borough assembly meeting. The boards oversee everything from firefighting to hospitals to recreation and senior services to roads.

Johnson, Bjorkman, Cox win assembly seats

Oct 1, 2019

  With all precincts reporting shortly before 10 pm, municipal election results have mostly taken shape.

Nikiski assembly candidates weigh in on ballot props

Sep 27, 2019

 

Three candidates are on the ballot for the borough assembly seat representing Nikiski. Joe Ross is a longtime North Roader who runs a gravel and topsoil business. He’s made one other run for public office and served on local service area boards. Jesse Bjorkman is a teacher at Nikiski Middle High School. On a recent episode of the Kenai Conversation, the two weighed in on the two ballot propositions voters will also decide in October.

 


Three candidates are vying for the District 1, Kalifornsky Beach seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.

Incumbent Dan Castimore is trying for his third term on the board. He’s an IT manager for the city of Kenai and a lifelong peninsula resident whose parents taught in the district. He said he’s running again because he thinks there’s more work to be done to shield students from budget cuts.

Patti Truesdell just retired from teaching, with her last placement at Hope School. She was recognized as a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2016. She said she’s running because she promised her students she’d keep fighting for them.

Susan Lockwood taught elementary school in villages across Alaska. She says she’s running because she doesn’t like how education is changing, being influenced by liberal ideas. She says she wants to get back to reading, writing and arithmetic and honoring our nation’s Founding Fathers, the flag and Pledge of Allegiance.

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