19 percent of voting peninsula shows at polls

Posted: Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The 2003 election season returned less-than-stellar figures this year, with just a over 19 percent of the total voting population turning out at the polls Tuesday.

"There's nothing really controversial on the ballot, and many people are running unopposed," said election volunteer Wanda Van Buskirk. "That's not conducive to a lot of voters."

Out of 38,059 registered voters, only an estimated 7,380 made their mark Tuesday, according to official election reports. This number doesn't count absentee and questioned ballots.

Borough clerk Linda Murphy, who organizes boroughwide elections, said the number of voters is likely to increase before the week is out as her office collects absentee votes and mail-in ballots from the five precincts -- Moose Pass, Hope, Cooper Landing, Tyonek, and Kachemak Bay -- that don't have polling locations.

"This isn't the lowest turnout we've ever had," Murphy said, recalling an 18.6 percent voter turnout in 2000, and 16.69 percent in 1997.

Three of the past four borough elections produced larger numbers at the polls. In those cases, there were either borough mayoral races or boroughwide propositions on the ballot.

In the 2002 borough election, where the borough mayor's seat was contested, 11,229 of the 36,741 registered voters -- 30.56 percent -- turned out at the polls.

In 1999, a heated race for borough mayor produced 8,804 votes, or 25.37 percent, of the voting population of 34,701. The ensuing runoff between eventual winner Dale Bagley and then-incumbent Mike Navarre turned up only 22.9 percent of the voting population.

In 2001, a proposition to bring a private prison to the peninsula rendered votes from 35.49 percent of the registered voters.

Tuesday, different polling places registered varying amounts of participation, from sparse visits to steady flows.

Van Buskirk said participation was spotty at the Soldotna Sports Center, where voters from Ridgeway, the Echo Lake area, and parts of Funny River and Kasilof voted.

"We'll go along for awhile, and then have three or four people show up," she said.

Seventy-nine-year-old P.J. Wyka of Sol-dotna said her husband, Harry, encouraged her to come in spite of her broken foot and bout with cancer.

"My husband told me 'many people ... died for the right to vote,'" she said. "'You're going whether your foot hurts or not.'"

In Kenai at the Kenai Mall, volunteers celebrated eclipsing 550 voters by 7:45 p.m.

"It only died down in the last 30 minutes," said volunteer June Harris, who has worked the polls for more than 20 years. "For this particular type of election, it's been pretty successful."

Murphy expressed some disappointment with the turnout.

"It's still pretty disturbing when people don't come out to vote," she said. "The weather was really nice. There really was no excuse."

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