The more things change?
By Miranda Weiss
October 6, 2016
Yesterday was election day in Alaska for cities and boroughs—our equivalent of counties, many of which are larger than states in the Lower 48. I didn’t manage to vote before my kids were finished with school, so they came with me. I was a bit embarrassed taking a barefooted four-year-old into the Homer city council chambers, but she refused to put her soggy rain boots back on. Instead, she found a SpongeBob book in the car and brought that with her.
As we entered the building, our current mayor, who just ran a failed campaign to unseat our long-serving state representative, hobbled behind us on crutches. “I pulled something,” she said. “It could have been worse.” I didn’t ask what or how, but she smiled at my kids—the only ones at the polling place—as we stood in line to show our IDs. The two volunteers at the first table looked at my driver’s license and then neatly highlighted the spots I needed to sign in order to get the city and borough ballots.
My six-year-old daughter came into the voting booth with me while the four-year-old found a table to sit at and look at her book. The six-year-old wanted to do the voting herself, and I let her carefully color in a couple of ovals with a black pen. We were voting on city council members for two open seats, city mayor, and a few bond and tax issues, including whether to fund a new police department building to the tune of $12 million.
The highlight of voting as my daughters know it is getting the stickers before leaving that say, “I voted today. Did you?” A woman in charge of one of the ballot collection machines kindly thanked us for coming and gave each girl two stickers. I like those stickers, too—they’ve got to be one of the cheapest and easiest ways of boosting voter turnout. Although even with them, typically fewer than 20 percent of voters actually show up.
Last night, my husband and I looked at the election results online. The cop shop bond was handily defeated by a margin of more than five percent. Two of three candidates were easily elected to council seats; the third contender, a woman who recently moved to Homer and didn’t turn in a photo or statement for the voter booklet, had a resume that included a failed custody battle over a son who remains out of state, a job at a fish processing plant, and a few DUI charges. She had been aiming to restart her life, she told a local reporter, and wanted to serve the public.
Despite the two new council members, not much will likely change around here. At the same time, it feels like everything is always changing—a radically different future always seems to be just around the corner. Yesterday, the state’s largest newspaper announced a massive oil discovery in the Arctic, just offshore. The Alaska government is still out of operating funds, with no plan in place to solve the budget crisis. Up the road in Anchorage, where many Homer people head on weekends for stock-up shopping trips, people are murdering each other—along beloved trails, on doorsteps, in parking lots. We’ve got a homeless problem in Homer, and within walking distance of our house, on Pioneer Avenue—Homer’s main drag—a needle exchange program got started this summer. We’ve got a heroin problem here, too.
I always want to reach across the tables and give those polling place volunteers a hug. They are the peaceful soldiers of our democracy, I think. And even when nothing seems to be working right, I feel grateful for what they do.
Miranda Weiss is the author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska. She is a science and nature writer in Homer, Alaska.