Bethel students went to the polls last week. They voted with Sharpies, and there was only one question on the ballot — it’s up to them to pick the sign that will mark a local playground.
It’s part of a city-wide effort to raise community-minded citizens. City leaders also hope it will interest parents and families in the upcoming general elections.
“If the community isn’t voting, they’re not sharing their voice,” said Lori Strickler, Bethel’s city clerk.
This election may not seem as consequential as the upcoming general elections, but Strickler said they’re actually related.
She said kids can also bring a little voter awareness home to their families — and maybe even spur adults to vote.
“Having conversations about elections within the household will help encourage the adult voters to look into what’s going to be on the ballot,” she said.
She brought voter information for this year’s state elections for students to take home.
Less than 19% of Bethel voters turned out in this year’s local elections. In 2018 and 2019, more than a third of the population voted in municipal elections.
Strickler set up voting booths and the city’s ballot counting machines at Bethel High School earlier this week. It looked like the real deal, except the backdrop was yellow lockers and classroom doors.
She explained how the student vote would work to a couple dozen middle schoolers at a time. There was some gum snapping from the crowd, but everyone paid attention.
The students took turns in the polling booths and then fed their ballots into the machines. Everyone voted, and the stickers were popular.
Hannah Japhet and Angela Simon still have five years before they can vote in a general election, but they both said they might vote when they’re eligible.
A few students even grabbed the grownup election materials to take home. They’ll find out the results on Monday.
Adult elections are Tuesday, Nov. 8 this year. Early voting for most Alaska precincts started Oct. 24.