Y-K Delta villages see high voter turnout on Election Day

The Johnson River bisects Kasigluk, Alaska.
(Photo credit Katie Basile / KYUK)

Many communities across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are reporting a higher than usual voter turnout this Election Day, even where dicey river conditions are making getting to the polls dangerous.

Throughout the day, the voice of election worker Jamie Tinker has been crackling over Kasigluk’s VHF radio, encouraging people to vote.

“And then a couple minutes later, more people would come,” she said.

Tinker has worked the Kasigluk polls for five years, and she is seeing a higher than usual turnout this election. But she’s concerned that not everyone who wants to cast a ballot will make it to the voting booth.

“The river condition is very scary,” Tinker said. “It’s all ice, some water.”

The Johnson River divides Kasigluk into two sections, and ice had begun forming weeks ago. A couple of days earlier, temperatures started climbing, destabilizing the thin ice.

When asked if she had been seeing people cross the river to vote today, Tinker responded, “No, because it rained last night. It’s watery, so people are scared to come across.”

All Election Day, the sun has shone bright and warm. Also in Kasigluk, the search continues for Wassilie Keane, who went missing on October 24. This morning the search group met in the Tribal Office where elections are being held. The group voted, and headed out again to look for the missing man.

The same river that divides Kasigluk also bisects the community of Nunapitchuk, where the watery ice cancelled school today.

“But regardless of the conditions, people are still making it across to the main side,” said Nunapitchuk Tribal Administrator Jacob Tobeluk, who has been watching people slowly make the treacherous trek to reach the polls. “Walking on top of the ice,” Tobeluk explained, “trying to keep distance in between so they don’t have their weight in a small area, kind of spreading out.”

These unstable ice conditions have become normal for both Nunapitchuk and Kasliguk as warmer seasons have pushed freeze up deeper into winter.

Goodnews Bay is also seeing a healthy voter turnout. The election committee chairman for the community, Samuel Kavelala, says that might have something to do with Coastal Villages Region Fund offering a free meal to people with “I Voted” stickers.

“There was hamburgers, hotdogs, chips, soda,” Kavelala listed.

CVRF is offering everything from full barbaques to snacks served with hot chocolate in its communities to encourage voting today. The local CVRF workers decide which foods are availalbe.

In Mekoryuk, a quarter of the available ballots had already been cast by 1:30 p.m. Election worker Lincoln Shavings expects to have a late night. Mekoryuk’s electronic voting machine is not working, and the workers will be hand-counting ballots. It’s not the first time.

“There’s always something missing or something broke,” Shavings said about the voting machine. “In this case, something was wrong with the paper.”

In the community of Eek, Election Committee Chairman Maryann Hawk has overseen elections for about 30 years. She says that voter turnout for this election is one of the highest she’s ever seen, and she wasn’t able to share much more with KYUK. Another voter had walked in.