By Jenny Neyman
Did you vote today?
Did you know it was even an option?
It is, with in-person absentee voting locations open at the Borough Building in Soldotna and Kenai City Hall operated by the Alaska Division of Elections.
Yes, “in-person absentee” sounds like a temporal impossibility, or at least an oxymoron. All it means is you’ll be absent from the polls come election day, so you’re voting early. The Division of Elections also offers by-mail absentee voting, but ballots for Tuesday’s primary election should have been requested by now.
Absentee voting is open to anyone. It’s not like being absent from work – you don’t need an excuse to do it.
“They don’t have to tell me why they need to vote early at all,” said Kari Mohn, the absentee poll worker at Kenai City Hall. “It can be anyone. They don’t need a reason.”
The Kenai location has ballots for the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough, except Hope and Sunrise. At the Borough Building, they have ballots for everywhere in Alaska.
“We’re one of the only stations in the area that has ballots for the entire 40 districts (in the state). So if somebody is here from Bethel for work they can come in here and vote,” said Teri Birchfield, who staffs the Borough Building absentee polls with her mother, Nita Douthit, and Lori Seymour.
A visitor from Bethel, or Bettles, or anywhere else in Alaska, could still vote in the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Tuesday, but if they don’t vote at the Soldotna absentee location they will only be able to vote a partial ballot. With the primary election, that means a visitor won’t be able to vote for their home district’s representative, just the ballot measures, if they don’t vote at the Soldotna absentee site.
“It helps alleviate as many partial counts as would happen,” Birchfield said. “If you come here we can give you your actual ballot and it will be a full count.”
Absentee voting on the central peninsula is available 15 working days before any election — including Tuesday’s primary, the municipal election in October and the general election in November. Absentee polls are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in Kenai and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Borough Building, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Borough Building. The Soldotna absentee site will also be open on election day.
Mohn has been staffing absentee polling for five years in Kenai and said it’s usually snowbirds heading back down the highway that take advantage of early voting.
“That’s not the case so much this year,” she said. “Folks say they’re going to be working.”
Mohn has had 10 to 15 people a day vote in Kenai, which is about usual, she said. It’s been mostly police and fire department personnel and North Slope workers who will be on shift next week, and college kids heading off to school.
“And there are people who always vote absentee,” she said. “Anyone who needs a little bit more help or enjoys that it’s quieter are welcome to come and vote,” she said.
The same ID requirements are in effect for absentee voting as for voting on Tuesday. Since Alaska has a closed primary, voters need to know what they’re registered as — Republican, Democrat, Undeclared, etc. — to determine which ballot they get.
If voters don’t know, they don’t need to worry. Absentee poll workers can look it up. They can also help with anything else election-related, like registering to vote or requesting by-mail absentee ballots for upcoming elections.
They’re happy to do so, in fact.
“It makes the day go if you’re busy,” Birchfield said. “That’s what we’re here for. If we’re busy it shows people are thinking about the community.”
The Soldotna site has had an average of 30 to 40 voters a day.
“It’s a little slow to start with, but we’ve built every day, as we generally do,” Birchfield said Monday.
“A lot of the time August is a tough one. People are still in summer mode until September when people start thinking of elections,” she said.
If it’s slow, poll workers find ways to pass the time.
“We just try to do quick projects so that when voters come in we’re ready to help them,” Birchfield said. “I liken us to a garage sale sometimes, like everyone comes at once or nobody comes.”
Mohn reads or writes thank-you notes. Birchfield has books or crocheting to fall back on. Seymour is a little more ambitious.
“She’s the scrubbies for washing dishes,” Birchfield said, indicating the basket of brightly colored puffs Seymour has been working on. “Nobody else will make them, they’re too hard.”
On Monday, Tom Rhyner, of Kenai, stopped in Conference Room A to vote at the Soldotna location. He works 10 days on, four off at the Russian River weir for Fish and Game, and he’ll be gone come Tuesday.
During the winter he works for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which has its main office in the Borough Building. Rhyner was in checking on paperwork with the district Monday.
“I just happened to be in the building so I saw the signs. I couldn’t remember which day the election was on,” he said.
He’s glad he did. Working for Fish and Game, there are two ballot measures of particular interest to him — aerial hunting and the clean water initiative. If he hadn’t voted early, he wouldn’t have voted at all.
“A lot of people work two weeks on and two off. If it falls on their week of work there’s no other way for them to vote, really,” he said.
For more information on absentee voting, and for forms to do so, visit: