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Bethel voters say what they want the next city council to address

The State of Alaska Division of Elections' 2020 “I Voted” sticker created by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee.
Alaska Division of Elections
The State of Alaska Division of Elections' 2020 “I Voted” sticker created by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee.

On Oct. 5, what had started as a sunny morning gave way to a cold and grey election day in Bethel. Despite the rain, a steady trickle of voters emerged from the town’s two polling sites at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and the Lower Kuskokwim District Office.

As voters exited the polls, KYUK surveyed them about what issues were important to them this election cycle. Most mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For city council, I am for the vaccine mandates,” Anne Komulainen said when she left the polls at the Lower Kuskokwim School District Office as part of the post-work crowd. “I really think that the city needs to keep up with what's going on with COVID and make sure that our community stays safe. To me, that's the most important thing right now.”

Another man, who would only identify himself as John, aged 55, only had one word on the topic of the pandemic: "Masks. That's it,” he said, responding that he doesn’t want them.

John and his wife wore masks on to vote. He removed his for the interview. John also said that he wanted more reliable hauled water and sewer service, but said that he wasn’t confident that this iteration of the Bethel City Council would be able to improve it.

“There just doesn't seem to be any change. Even no matter how many times you call, you get half resolution or no resolution,” he said.

But Susan Taylor, who was selling VFW raffle tickets at the cultural center just outside of the voting area, was feeling a little more optimistic about the candidates. She said that she’d be happy with any of them, even the ones she didn’t vote for.

“Well I chose the ones I voted for, but the ones I didn't vote for, I’d be okay if they win. You know, the debates and stuff, they all handled that really good, and they all seem to be on top of the issues out here in Bethel,” Taylor said.

Voters brought up other issues for the city council to address. One public defense attorney wants the police force to reside in Bethel, rather than traveling to town from out-of-state on a two weeks on, two weeks off basis. Nearly half of the police force currently lives out of town. Another man said that he’s concerned that the city turns a blind eye to homelessness, alcohol abuse, and drug use.

Voter Aidan Keller said that he was most concerned about the way Bethel looks. He hopes the city council will focus on beautification.

“I think there's a lot we could do to spruce up the Bethel buildings, the Bethel infrastructure, the parks, the boardwalk, things like that. They're not so friendly. They're not so safe. They're not nice. They get destroyed easily. There's a lot of graffiti. I mean, just standing here, right now, there's pieces of wood missing from the main entrance of the library.” Keller said, standing outside the Cultural Center.

According to unofficial election day results, 472 people voted in the Bethel City Council election, just 10.71% of the town’s 4,175 registered voters. The canvass board will finalize the results on Oct. 7.

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