Rural Alaska

2 rural Alaska polling places didn’t open until late afternoon on Election Day

Two polling locations in rural Alaska didn’t open until late afternoon on Election Day on Tuesday because of staffing issues, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Teller, a village in the Nome area with 245 residents, reported setting up its polling site at about 3:30 p.m., Division of Elections spokeswoman Tiffany Montemayor said. In Nuiqsut, a North Slope Borough community of 542, workers headed to the polling site at about the same time. Montemayor said she did not know the actual time when people started voting.

No other voting locations experienced delays or issues to the same extent, Montemayor said.

The polling sites in Teller and Nuiqsut opened late because of problems securing poll workers to staff them, the division said in a written statement Tuesday.

“The election workers previously confirmed decided they were not going to work,” Montemayor said.

Michelle Sparck, who runs the nonpartisan Get Out the Native Vote initiative, confirmed that people who were trained and committed to conducting the polls backed out for various reasons.

“If it’s not weather, it’s personnel,” Sparck said about difficulties opening polling places in rural Alaska.

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Sparck said the division officials had gone through a roster of Nuiqsut and Teller residents to see if anyone would be willing to work as a substitute, but that process was failing by the hour. She said Get Out the Native Vote started canvassing its own networks.

In Teller, Jamie Ablowaluk stepped up to open the polling site. She had help at the end of the night counting ballots but was the only one running the polling site.

Normally, the Division of Elections tries to have at least three poll workers per site, but one is acceptable, Montemayor said.

“Sometimes in these smaller precincts in rural locations, it’s hard to do that,” she said. “Obviously, it was hard to even just get that one replacement.”

Ablowaluk, a former community organizer for Get Out the Native Vote and a single mother of three, worked the polls despite her youngest daughter being sick.

“All the election workers just didn’t want to work, I guess,” she said. “I gave them until 2 o’clock to show up and then I showed up.”

The voter turnout in Teller was higher this election than in the August primary. Out of 157 registered voters in August, 33 voted in the primary, Sparck said. This time, 37 people out of 158 cast their ballot in Tuesday’s general election.

In Nuiqsut, two residents plus a volunteer who flew in from Deadhorse opened the polling site, Sparck said.

“They were able to open their office around 4,” Sparck said. “They doubled their voter turnout from August with that opening.”

In August, out of 283 registered Nuiqsut voters, 28 voted, according to Sparck. This time, 46 people out of 280 voted, giving the community a 16.43% turnout.

To avoid hiccups during elections in rural Alaska, Sparck said that the Get Out the Native Vote initiative focuses on voter education and laying out what it takes to be an election worker or a translator for election activities.

“It’s a huge process, well beyond making a plan to vote,” she said. “It literally takes a village to make an election happen.”

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Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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