I voted

WASILLA — Eight stars of gold on a field of blue, Alaska’s flag … is no longer the only background for the iconic ‘I Voted Today!’ stickers Alaskan voters collect and proudly display after casting their ballot.

Juneau artist Pat Race was commissioned by the Division of Elections to create uniquely Alaskan renditions of the classic sticker for voters to choose from after voting early.

“I’m really engaged in Alaska policy. I follow the legislature really closely, and for me I’m just so excited that this hit because I think this is the kind of thing that’s easy to ignore. People don’t get excited about civics, so to see people excited about a piece of civic art is really exciting,” Race said.

The designs came as a request from members of the Division of Elections. Race had drawn an ‘I voted’ bear for a calendar that was left in the DOE office, and employees eventually asked Race to design more fuzzy creatures for custom stickers. Initially, Race was hesitant to create a design that would replace the classic Alaska Flag design he loves so much.

“I really love the classic ‘I voted’ sticker and it took a little bit of prodding from the Division of Elections. I didn’t want it to be seen as a replacement to that,” Race said. “I’m really proud to wear my sticker. It turned into a good thing.”

Special stickers ran out at the Mat-Su Borough building as early as Monday morning. Early voting has been open since Oct. 22 and Alaskans are flocking to the polls in droves.

As of Nov. 5, 62,581 ballots had been returned of the 75,058 issued. Only 24,238 voted in the Primary Election, with 8,248 of those returned as early ballots. The early voting for the primary has already surpassed that. Considering that over 60,000 votes have already been cast, Alaskans may very well surpass the 123,246 total that voted in the 2016 General Election.

Of the various districts that represent the Valley, the three-way race for District 10 is in the lead as of Monday night. In District 8, 607 of 840 ballots have already been returned as of Monday night. In District 9, 795 of 1,022 ballots have been returned. District 9 had the most requested early ballots of any Valley district. District 10 has the highest turnout thus far, with 921 of 1,017 ballots returned. District 11 has seen 579 of 807 ballots returned. District 12 has the highest rate of return, with 919 of 965 having already been returned.

In another method, 61 voters have returned their ballots via fax as of Monday night. Alaskan voters cast 17,605 ballots by mail, 2,016 online, 5,574 in person, and 189 special needs ballots have been returned. These numbers are nearly three times the number of early ballots were requested for the general election as were requested for the Aug. 21 primary. Voters requested 75,058 early ballots for the 2018 General Election, and only 27,559 were requested for the Primary Election in August. During the last Gubernatorial election in 2014, 90,336 ballots were returned of 98,566 requested total. Only 22,200 early votes were returned, which has already been surpassed by the 37,136 this time.

“Voter engagement is a critical component to our elections process and we are excited to present Alaskans with more fun opportunities to share with their communities that they’ve participated on Election Day,” said State Elections Director Josie Bahnke in a Division of Elections Press Release.

Voters can choose from a beaver, snowmachining walrus, four wheeling caribou, dungeness crab, king crab, raven, hipster moose and eagle. Race’s illustrations were also issued on the Official Election Pamphlets, and his stickers were translated into various languages from indigenous Alaskans and cultures across the world, including Spanish and Tagalog.

Race insists that the variety of animals and travel apparatus’ do not carry party affiliations, and hopes that in the future, regional artists will be able to add their work to the early voting stickers.

“They’re sort of like some friendly rivalries,” Race said. “I was sent a great photo of a kid, a ton of people have sent me selfies and great photos of people who have voted. One kid was dressed up just like the moose.”

Race studied computer science at UAF and began doodling in high school in the margins of his math homework. Race saw positive response to his art, and eventually started Alaska Robotics with Aaron Suring and Lou Logan. While a new governor is a certainty following the Tuesday election, not all early voters were guaranteed to take home a unique sticker. Race is selling prints of the stickers on store.alaskarobotics.com/ for those who did not get a sticker. Race said that the limited number of the stickers was done by design by the DOE to add an element of exclusivity.

“We’ve seen a lot of overwhelming positive reaction to the stickers and so I don’t know if it’s that, or just more people are inclined to go vote at a time that’s more convenient to them,” Division of Elections Communications Manager Samantha Miller said. “We’re certainly pleased with what we’re observing this year. It could be a factor, I don’t know that there’s any just one to pin it to.”

The rousing success and popularity of the unique stickers at approximately 188 polling locations has voters asking, what’s next? Race is unsure of if the stickers will reappear for the 2020 election.

“I think that it’s pretty objectively a success, and I would hope whatever administration comes in wants to continue doing something like this,” Race said. “It added levity, a little excitement and something fresh to the election cycle.”

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at tim.rockey@frontiersman.com.

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