Three large glass jars sit atop the ice cream display at PJ’s Diner in Kenai. A picture is taped on each jar: a caricature of presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the far left, an English springer in the middle and President Barack Obama on the right.
Customers at PJ’s are asked to drop a coffee bean in the jar representing their chosen candidate. They drop the beans when leaving the diner; they’re forking over their votes.
The diner began its “Fork Over Your Vote” poll in late September. Its proprietor said she hopes the independent business poll will accurately predict the 2012 presidential election’s winner.
As of Monday, Romney holds a commanding lead over his opponents with 236 votes. In second place, Eddie the dog, the proprietors’ pet and the diner’s “write-in candidate,” has received 179 votes. Obama is trailing with 52 votes.
PJ’s owner Linda Petrey discovered the poll online. Restaurants in nearly every state have joined the mock election. The website, forkoveryourvote.com, collects results from participants across the nation. About 44,000 votes have been cast as of Wednesday, and Romney holds a 5-point lead.
The Kenai diner has participated in the poll once before, during the state’s 2010 Senate race. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski made history when she mounted a write-in campaign and won the general election over newcomer Joe Miller, who won the primary election.
The diner’s voters during the senatorial race matched the state’s results — almost. Miller won by a small percentage.
“We had people voting for Miller just because the picture we had on the jar showed his family,” she said. “I couldn’t find just a picture of him. Some comments I heard were, ‘He looks like he has a nice family, we’ll vote for him.’”
Participating in a second poll made sense, she said, as the presidential election is a contentious event throughout the state and Outside. Customers from Texas to Mississippi eat at PJ’s, too.
The diner is known for the unusual. After the Canadian mad cow disease outbreak of 2006 the owner’s added a new burger to the menu. It’s called the mad cow burger.
“People think we’re off kilter, but that’s OK,” she said. “It’s fun; keeps life interesting.”
Customers are allowed to vote during every visit. So are kids.
Petrey chose her dog Eddie as the alternative because “some people don’t like either of the candidates.”
She hit the mark with her assumption. Kasilof resident Debbie Love, a window painter, voted for Eddie.
“I’ll pick the dog,” Love said. “The simple reason is that Obama is all right; he’s trying. And Romney is going to kill the working class. Kill it ... I don’t like what’s out there. I’d rather pick the dog.”
Customers are receptive to the idea of the poll, they said. Petrey witnessed a couple heated debates between friends who were unaware of each other’s political stances, but laughter accompanies most requests for votes.
Unlike Love, Anchorage resident Randy Harris said he wasn’t surprised by Romney’s lead. Whether it will predict the election’s actual winner, “That’s a hard call,” he said.
“Choosing my meal was harder,” he said of his vote, however. Harris is a branch manager at Rain for Rent, a company that specializes in pumps, tanks and filtration rentals.
After visiting Kenai Middle School on Monday, Sen. Mark Begich ate at the diner. He was given the chance to vote. He listened closely as his waitress explained the poll, then he picked Eddie, according to the diner. Begich has never endorsed a political candidate.
The votes are tallied weekly. The poll will run through Nov. 3 at noon.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.