Early voting starts today in Kodiak, and although voters have until the Oct. 5 election day to cast their ballot, there is a good chance that many residents won’t. For the past 15 years, voter turnout on the island has remained around 20% or lower, with few exceptions.
Islandwide, 20.3% of eligible voters turned out in 2020 during last year’s high-stakes presidential election, KDM reported. A total of 17% of voters in the city and 23% of eligible voters in the borough cast ballots that year.
In 2018, voter turnout in the borough was 13%, while 10% of registered voters in the city showed up to vote. Those numbers rose slightly the next year, when 15% of eligible voters in the borough and 11% of city voters came out, according to numbers provided by the City of Kodiak and past KDM reporting.
It’s unclear how the COVID pandemic impacted voter turnout last year because not enough studies have been done on the subject so far, according to Amy Lovecraft, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
In the past 15 years, the highest percentage of local voter turnout was in 2006, when 26% of eligible voters cast ballots. Alongside the typical city, borough and school board seats up for grabs that year, there were several referendums on that year’s ballot. Among them were two distinct initiatives where voters agreed to approve $8 million in funding for public safety buildings and an indoor swimming pool at the high school.
The turnout in Kodiak elections is comparable to other Alaskan communities of this size. In Ketchikan, where there were 13,948 residents reported in the 2020 Census, only 26% of voters turned out in 2020 municipal elections, public radio station KRBD reported.
The primary reason people across the country do not vote is because of a lack of resources, according to Lovecraft. When outside groups intervened to provide these resources, marginalized groups of people have shown high voter turnout. She used the example of the community mobilization that happened in Georgia during the presidential election last year, which boosted the African-American vote.
Another reason that people do not vote, especially in local elections, is because they are satisfied with the status quo, Lovecraft said.
It’s also typical for there to be a bump in voter turnout during elections that coincide with the four-year presidential cycle. Studies show that, nationwide, people are more likely to vote in all elections, no matter what date, that occur during presidential election years, KDM reported.
“This is that big paradox in American politics: People tend to turn out more for higher scales of elections,” Lovecraft said. “Yet they have less of a chance of impacting those elections than they do when they turn out for elections where turnout is low in local elections.”
Lovecraft weighs the impact of a vote by how likely an individual is to break a tie. In a national election, it is very unlikely that a person in a committed “red” or “blue” state will determine the outcome of an election. For statewide elections, that is also rarely the case. However, in local elections, it is very possible, she said.
In 2018, Bart LeBon beat out Kathryn Dodge by one vote in a race to represent downtown Fairbanks in the Alaska State House of Representatives. That vote determined the party majority in the house.
Voter registration has closed for the upcoming election.
In fact, people who have previously registered but haven’t been to the polls recently may not be eligible to vote either. The Alaska Division of Elections purges the voting registry once a year. People who did not participate in two general elections and have not been in contact with the Division of Elections or have not responded to a mailer warning may have been purged from the record.