Kenai Peninsula Group Seeks To Increase Voter Turnout With New Ordinance

A group of citizens on the Kenai Peninsula is trying to change the way voters cast their ballot in Borough elections.

Depending on where you live in the Borough, as few as six percent of the registered voters in a precinct could decide an election. James Price is one of 16 borough residents who are working to change that.

“The turnout has been getting lower year by year. (The proposal) will give people a more meaningful opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice,” Price said.

Last week, the Borough Clerk’s office received a proposal, co-sponsored by Price, called the Better Elections initiative. The ordinance that’s been drafted would change Borough elections in two big ways. Voters would receive their ballots in the mail, and that would work basically like casting an absentee ballot. The other change would be to introduce ranked choice voting.

So in something like a Borough mayoral election, if one candidate doesn’t get a majority, you start going down the rankings, eliminating the candidates with the least votes, until a clear winner is found. This would eliminate the need for run-off elections.

“In the last several (elections), the voter turnout for the run off election to determine who the mayor is, there’s been less people showing up than in the first part, which if it were a state wide election, you’d be calling that a primary. So you’re having a fall off in interest at a key time in the election,” Price said.

Besides getting more voters in on the action, the measure aims to lower the cost of administering elections, perhaps by as much as half.

I got some numbers from the Clerk’s office, and, in theory anyway, that math works out. The Borough has about $127,000 budgeted for elections for the next fiscal year. And there are not quite 42,000 registered voters on the rolls. Take that times the dollar ten the Clerk’s office estimates as the cost of mailing out a ballot, and you do get somewhere in the ball park of a fifty percent savings.

This policy isn’t set in stone. In fact, it hasn’t even been brought before the Assembly. The Clerk’s office will either certify or reject the initiative this week. If it is certified, it will have to go to a petition. And it will need 997 signatures to go before voters, who would decide in the booth if they want to vote from home in the future.

Shaylon Cochran is a host and reporter at KDLL in Kenai. He’s reported on fishing, energy, agriculture and local politics since coming to Alaska in 2011. He has worked at KDLL/KBBI on the Kenai Peninsula, where he picked up lots of new hobbies, like smoking salmon, raising chickens, skiing and counting RV’s. He holds a bachelors degree in Journalism from Iowa State University.

Previous articleEducation
Next articleWrangell Mountain Sky Boys