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Municipal and school board elections bring Bethel residents out to perform their civic duties

Bethel polling Precinct 1 located at the Lower Kuskokwim District Office. Oct. 3, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.
Gabby Salgado
Bethel polling Precinct 1 located at the Lower Kuskokwim District Office. Oct. 3, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.

On Oct. 3, Bethel residents had a chance to have their voices heard at the polls in elections for the Lower Kuskokwim School District Board, the Bethel Advisory School Board, and Bethel City Council. The latter, with eight candidates vying for four open seats, had the potential to result in a major shake-up.

Brian Lefferts showed up at Precinct 1, at the school district offices, to cast his vote.

"There are a lot of tough choices this year. There's lots of people running for city council this year, which is awesome," Lefferts said. "It's so great to see so many people willing to come out and serve in a volunteer role on city council."

Bethel resident Jonathan Liberty, who has been an election volunteer for the past eight years, donned a guitar and serenaded voters that trickled into the polling station.

"This is the first time I brought a guitar to it. I’m at Precinct 2 over at the cultural center, but when I get a break I go over there and vote," Liberty said. "Whatever my nana votes for, that’s what I’ll do too. She pays attention to everything."

Bethel Native Corporation President and CEO Ana Hoffman showed up at the Yupiit Piciryariat Cultural Center at lunchtime to cast her ballot.

"I’m here today to vote, do my civic duty," Hoffman said. "We have candidates that are willing to volunteer their time and energy and experience, and the least I could do is show up and vote."

Joey Valadez needed a friendly nudge to remember to exercise his civic duty.

"Honestly, a friend of mine reminded me. I wish I was more on top of it, but I'm glad she reminded me so I came out and voted today," Valadez said.

Cormac Sookram moved to Bethel from Colorado 16 months ago. He is a local pediatrician and was the lone challenger for one of five spots on the Bethel Advisory School Board.

"I'm glad that there are people, especially young people, that want to get up and make a change," Sookram said. "Because I think with previous years, people are pretty happy with the status quo."

Voter turnout for Bethel has averaged less than 20% since 2011. Those who did make it out to the polls on Oct. 3 proudly displayed stickers proclaiming their participation in English and Yup’ik.

"As a local native person, being Yup’ik from here, when I see Yup’ik candidates, they always have my vote first," Trim Nick said.

Nick said that he based his vote this year mostly on the answers candidates gave as part of KYUK’s candidate forum, which helped inform him.

"More often than not, if it's fairly new transplants from outside, I don't know who they are or the names are not familiar, like today," Nick said.

Whether they are unfamiliar or not, the winners of the Oct. 3 races will soon be household names around Bethel.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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