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Voters deal with new primary process

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Central Kenai Peninsula voters had seven choices for voting in this year's primary election. They could choose one of six party ballots, or stay home.

However, those who couldn't stay home were the election workers charged with handing out ballots and explaining the new primary system.

Voters in the newly created Central Precinct polling place in the Soldotna Sports Center Tuesday were "very congenial" about voting in the new polling place, but did not like voting in a closed primary, according to precinct chair Wanda VanBuskirk.

"About 90 percent don't like it," she said, of the new rule.

The new precinct includes voters from Kasilof, Ridgeway, Sport Lake and part of Kalifornsky Beach.

"It's hard to tell whether or not we've had a large turnout, because it's a new precinct and we really have nothing to compare it with," VanBuskirk said at Tuesday afternoon. "But, it's been steady all day," she said.

The veteran poll worker, who has been the chair for five years, reported that many voters not on the voter list for the new precinct had been showing up through the day, and most opted to vote on the special Question Ballot designed solely for the primary election because of the numerous precinct changes.

"We had one man who was unhappy," said VanBuskirk. "He wasn't on our list, and he didn't like having to choose from the six ballots.

"Our workers talked to him, though, and he voted on the Question Ballot," she said.

Poll workers were instructed to not say a party name out loud when asking voters which ballot they wanted, according to VanBuskirk, and were instead told to use little blue cards with single initials representing the party and have voters simply point to their preferences.

"The cards didn't work," she said. "We're just using the initials for the parties when asking the voters."

Meanwhile, over at the Kenai Mall, tensions seemed to be running a little higher than in Soldotna.

Polling place overseer Ruth Malston said a majority of voters were quite unhappy with the new primary system.

"Some are so angry they've torn up ballots," Malston said. "Most everybody that comes in does not like the closed primary."

She said voters were either confused by having to choose between the six ballots or upset because they had to vote with the party they were registered to.

Reviews were mixed among those who had to sort through the six party ballots to cast a vote.

Some, like Kenai's Zack Kazakin, thought the new primary made the process more fair.

"It makes good sense. Before people could kind of act against the other candidate," Kazakin said. "It's definitely an improvement."

However, other opinions were not as favorable of the new system.

"I thought it was terrible. I felt like I was disenfranchised," said Jim Spielman.

Spielman said several things about the closed primary bothered him.

"I think my freedom was restricted by it," he said.

Spielman was not only upset by the restrictions the new system put on his choice, but also because of the inclusion of Ballot Initiative 1 on the ballot.

"It may be legal, but what is a statewide amendment doing on a primary ballot?" he asked.

Those complaints and others echoed in the ears of election workers, most of whom would spend the entire day -- from 6 a.m. until after 8 p.m. -- patiently explain the election process.

Most seemed to be taking the day's confusion in stride, despite the extra hassles.

One of those hassles came when people would sign up to vote, then leave once they learned they had to either vote with the party they were registered to or not at all.

"That kind of messes up our paperwork," said Malston.

Election workers didn't have the choice Tuesday to walk out on the political process. So choosing to grin and bear the situation was the order of the day. At least according to Kenai poll worker Marion Quesnel.

"You just have to roll with the punches," she said, helping another voter find the proper ballot.



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