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Voters head to the polls in Bethel in first ranked-choice general election

Voters lined up to cast their ballots in the Nov. 8 midterm election in Bethel.
Gabby Salgado
Voters lined up to cast their ballots in the Nov. 8 midterm election in Bethel.

Votes were still being counted on Nov. 9, a day after residents of U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s hometown headed to the polls in the rain in the state’s first ranked-choice general election.

In District S, the state Senate district representing Bethel and much of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, incumbent Sen. Lyman Hoffman has a nearly 30 point lead over conservative competitor Willy Keppel with 90% of precincts reporting.

In House District 38, state House candidate and former Bethel city council member C.J. McCormick was in the lead by 80 points against write-in challenger Myron Naneng.

In House District 39, which represents the Lower Yukon and Bering Straits region, Democratic incumbent Neal Foster was narrowly leading Independent candidate Tyler Ivanoff by two points with nearly 90% of precincts reporting.

The House District 38 and Senate District S races were on the ballot at the Lower Kuskokwim School District office on Nov. 8, where Debbie Fairbanks came out to vote on a wet and rainy day.

Bethel voters headed to the polls in the rain on Nov. 8.
Gabby Salgado
Bethel voters headed to the polls in the rain on Nov. 8.

“I think it's every American's duty,” Fairbanks said. “I think so much of our democracy and politics has been really challenged. Today's the only opportunity we have to say something.”

Another voter, Jolene Geerhart, went to the polls for a specific candidate, U.S. House incumbent Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola. Peltola is from Bethel, and she won a special election in August to serve until January 2023. She became the first Alaska Native ever in Congress when she won the August race. Now, she’s vying for a full term.

“I want her to win,” Geerhart said. “She's a good candidate.”

Across town at Bethel’s other voting location, the cultural center, the line to vote stretched almost halfway down the front hallway at 5:30 p.m.

Ana Patricia Jones voted with her family. She also picked Peltola, who’s from Bethel, first for the U.S. House race.

“We have seen her here all the time,” Jones said. “She has been the same for years.”

Peltola is leading in the U.S. House race, but the contest won’t be over until later in the month when ranked-choice votes are counted.

For the two other statewide races, Jones ranked the incumbent Republicans first: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

She doesn’t always agree with Dunleavy, but she says she knows where he stands, which is why she ranked him before his competitors.

“None of them were the saints of my devotion, but I had to pick one,” Jones said.

Murkowski is narrowly trailing her conservative competitor, Kelly Tshibaka, but that election will also come down to second place picks. In the governor’s race, Dunleavy has 52% of the votes. If he remains over the 50% threshold, that race won’t go to ranked-choice votes.

Kaylin Charles just moved to Bethel from Akiachak, and it was her first time voting here. The statewide races on her ballot matched Jones’: she ranked Democrat Peltola first, as well as Republicans Murkowski and Dunleavy. Peltola appeals to her because she’s from the region.

“She knows what we go through in these rural communities, like the cost of living,” Charles said.

Cost of living was also on Bill Howell’s mind when he voted a straight Republican ticket. He ranked Murkowski’s right-wing challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, first.

“I’m really concerned about the direction of the country,” Howell said. “Milk, a year ago, was $7.99. Now it’s $11.29.”

Francisco Martinezcuello contributed to this reporting.

Nina was a temporary news reporter at KYUK. She comes to Bethel from NPR, where she's a producer at Morning Edition.
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