Signs supporting Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral candidates Peter Micciche and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings are staked in the snow at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Signs supporting Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral candidates Peter Micciche and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings are staked in the snow at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Former state Senate president leads in Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor race

A runoff is still possible with 1,700 ballots uncounted.

KENAI — With more than 1,700 absentee votes yet to be counted in the special Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral election, just 23 votes put Peter Micciche ahead of the majority threshold needed for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to forgo runoff.

Unofficial election results last updated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough around 10:20 p.m. on Tuesday show that Micciche has received 2,526 votes — about 50.5% — of the 5,004 votes cast boroughwide on Tuesday.

That’s as compared to Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who received about 17.4% of votes, Dave Carey, who received 11.1% of votes and Zachary Hamilton, who received about 4.8% of votes.

About 16.1% of all votes cast Tuesday were write-in votes. Robert Wall of Sterling is a registered candidate with the Alaska Public Offices Commission who ran a write-in campaign for the seat. Write-in votes remain “unresolved” by the borough and have not been delineated by candidate.

As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, ballots cast in Tyonek still needed to be counted.

The borough will continue counting absentee ballots through Tuesday, when the election is set to be certified by borough assembly members, Michele Turner in the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office said Wednesday. In addition to the more than 1,700 ballots already received, Turner said more were expected to arrive from the southern peninsula.

Whoever is elected through the special election will serve until the next regular borough election in October.

Candidates on Wednesday expressed gratitude toward one another for running civil campaigns, but also disappointment at the low voter turnout at precincts around the borough. A little over 5,000 of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s more than 54,200 registered voters cast ballots in person on election day — about 9.2%.

Micciche, former president of the Alaska Senate and a former mayor of Soldotna, said he was “humbled” by the results that came in Tuesday night. He said he was preparing for the worst, but grew more excited as he watched his margin grow.

“I, in my mind, had resigned myself to the fact that there would be three more weeks of campaigning for a runoff,” Micciche said. “Right now, at least at the moment, I hold more than 50% and that was just not an expectation that I had.”

Still, he said he’s not counting unhatched chickens.

“We’re going to let the elections folks do their thing and we’ll see what the final tally looks like,” Micciche said.

Micciche said he plans to run for a full term as borough mayor during the next regular election in October.

Farnsworth-Hutchings, who currently serves on the Soldotna City Council, was the second highest vote-getter of ballots cast Tuesday. She said she’s also waiting to see what happens with the votes yet to be counted.

“I’ve seen people that were way ahead in the beginning (lose) when the absentees come in … and then they have a runoff, and the guy that had the most points ends up losing to the one that had (less),” she said. “It’s just crazy. You never know how it’s going to work out.”

When it comes to voter turnout, Farnsworth-Hutchings was one of multiple candidates to express disappointment.

“I mean, come on,” she said. “We’re under 10%. That is sad.”

Farnsworth-Hutchings said she hasn’t yet decided whether or not she’ll run for a full term as borough mayor in October.

Candidate Dave Carey, a Soldotna City Council member and retired teacher with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, on Wednesday called his run in the special mayoral race the “most passive” campaign he’s ever run, and said his intention was not to win the election. Rather, Carey said he hoped to reduce distrust in government while providing voters with another candidate to consider.

“My goal was to lessen distrust of government,” Carey said. “It was my hope that by promoting — and others did as well — a civil campaign, it would help ease a little bit of the distrust of government.”

Zachary Hamilton, a U.S. Air Force veteran who co-owns Brothers Café, also said he was not expecting to win the election, though he hoped to see smaller margins between himself and the other candidates. In reflecting on his campaign, Hamilton said he accomplished what he wanted to while bringing positivity to the election cycle. Micciche, Hamilton said, has his support.

“I have enjoyed challenging (the other candidates) to be the best version of themselves and I think they’ll be better prepared for it, having had to run against me,” Hamilton said. “My objective was to grow myself through this process and to let the community get to know me for who I am. And I think I accomplished that.”

Both Carey and Hamilton said they do not currently have plans to run for a term as borough mayor in October.

Robert Wall, of Sterling, led a write-in campaign for the same seat. Wall, who sits on the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors, said via email on Wednesday that he joined the race because he was disappointed with the choices on the ballot. Wall said that while he was also disappointed at low voter turnout, he met many people during his brief campaign who shared his vision for the future of the Kenai Peninsula.

“My vision and passion for the Kenai Peninsula has not changed. I will continue to work for the betterment of our borough and its residents,” he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled to certify the results of Tuesday’s special election during its Feb. 21 meeting.

If Micciche still holds more than 50% of votes cast when the election is certified, a special mayoral runoff election will not be needed. If his share of votes drops below 50%, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff, scheduled, if needed, for March 7.

Unofficial election results can be viewed by precinct on the borough’s website at kpb.us/assembly-clerk/elections/election-results.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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