Petersburg residents joined Alaskans to vote in the State Primary Election on Tuesday. Due to a record number of absentee ballots, and unpredictability for mail-in ballots, results may not be known until the end of August. As KFSK’s Corinne Smith reports, the COVID-19 pandemic made it a different experience for voters at the polls.
In-person voting in Petersburg on Primary Election Day is being held in the community gym, a larger venue than typical years. Poll workers in masks are registering voters, then showing them to polling stations which are spread out by six feet. Then voters carefully feed their ballots into the machine, then collects one of the signature “I Voted” stickers.
Poll workers wipe down each station after every voter, along with all used pens. Mary Clemens is overseeing the process, she’s an election official for Petersburg.
“It’s been going like most primaries, kind of slow but steady. Steady stream of people coming in,” says Mary Clemens, an election official who is overseeing the process. “It’s a new space, it’s the first time we’ve voted in the community gym, and it’s a lot bigger than the activity room so it’s been working well.”
Clemens says some regular poll workers felt unsafe volunteering due to COVID-19 risks, but they were able to find others to help out.
She says the line to register has never gotten more than three or four people long and crowding isn’t a problem. The voters seem to agree. As people collected their stickers, I ask them how they feel about voting today.
“I’ve always felt its important, I’m an old guy, and I’ve been voting since the 60s, so I think its a very important thing to do,” says Petersburg resident, Eric Kiegel.
“It’s an honor to have I guess, I felt like I needed to come, even after 13 hours of work,” says Megan Parker. “It’s a right that I’ve never had, now that I’m 18 and it’s my first time, so filling in the bubbles felt pretty good.”
By 7pm, just over 300 residents had voted in-person. Polls have been open for two weeks already for early voting, and many more people have mailed in ballots.
Voters say they are feeling satisfied with the process and COVID protocols. “It feels strange to have to wear a mask, and be cautious” says Chrstine Craske. “But whatever it takes to get through this whole thing.”
“I feel like I’m very fortunate to have a bunch of community members that take COVID seriously,” says Brian Richards. “I think that the people that helped out that allowed us to vote here have done a really good job of you know, making sure things are sanitized, there’s social distancing, that all the requirements are met.”
“It’s no more dangerous to vote here in person than it is to go to the grocery store and get groceries, really,” says Patty Reid, matter-of-factly. “In fact I think it’s less, how they’re handling it.”
On the ballot are candidates for US House and Senate, and Alaska State House and Senate. Some local voters say they are the most excited for former Petersburg doctor and commercial fisherman, Al Gross, now running as an Independent for US Senate against incumbent Dan Sullivan.
“His platform, and his history here, his work history, and his time in Alaska gives him a really unique perspective,” says Petersburg Schools Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter.
“I’ve worked with Dr. Alan Gross a lot, so it was nice to see his name on the ballot,” says Angela Menish, a nurse. “He’s definitely passionate about what he does, and I feel like every patient consistently got his best, so I feel like he’ll do that for all of us Alaskans.”
Due to a record number of absentee and mail-in ballots this year, primary election results are not expected to be known until the end of August.