Resources and perspectives on the 2020 primary in Bristol Bay

Aug 18, 2020

Polls opened today at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. tonight. Here are some tips on voter safety, what House Speaker Bryce Edgmon is considering this primary election, and a look at Independent candidate Al Gross. 

Voter sign in at City Hall in Dillingham. Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
Credit Brian Venua/KDLG

Voter safety in Bristol Bay 

Alaska’s primary election is today. Polls opened today at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. tonight. 

The COVID-19 pandemic means things are going to look a little different at the polls. Voter safety is a major concern for the Division of Elections, so along with encouraging by mail absentee and early voting, polling places have been doing their best to maximize safety. Sherry Tibbetts is the Bristol Bay Borough clerk.

“As far as our precincts here in Bristol Bay, the only real difference will be that you will be required to wear a mask to enter the building, the election workers will have a sneeze guard in front of them, have hand sanitizer for each individual to use, and we will give out masks if somebody comes and doesn’t have one,” she says.

Tibbetts says that despite the precautions voting this year is still business as usual. She encourages everyone to make their voice heard and vote.

“It will be pretty much the same as normal other than those precautions that will be taken to protect the folks that are doing the actual election," she says.

Masks are also mandatory in Dillingham. The city will provide masks to people who don’t have one. In an effort to minimize the number of contact surfaces, the City of Dillingham has removed curtains from voting booths. Voting stations will be sanitized between each use, and there will be markers for social distancing. Voters are also encouraged to come alone and avoid bringing other household members, like children.

House Speaker Bryce Edgemon of District 37 weighs in on the primary 

Dillingham Independent House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, is running unopposed in Bristol Bay’s District 37. 

There’s more competition on the national level. The Democratic ballot voters can choose between Democratic and Independent candidates. Edgemon says the hot button issue for Bristol Bay is Pebble Mine. 

“I think there is certainly a very close eye on how candidates are posturing on the Pebble issue, and I suspect that as that issue gains prominence, not only in Alaska but throughout the country, and maybe even internationally as sort of a poster child for a project that many think is environmentally damaging, to put it mildly," he says. "I think a lot of voters here in the region will be making their choices maybe based on that one issue, as well as certainly a lot of other important issues.”

If anything can rival Pebble in terms of local concern, it's the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring and summer were marked by enormous upheavals in the state’s tourism and air travel industries. The pandemic has also decimated many small businesses, and increased financial strain for parents. 

“Getting relief to Alaskans who need it -- those who are unemployed, those who have had a small business that may be in peril, or perhaps has already gone under -- that’s first and foremost in the minds of many. And of course, we’ve had sort of a mixed track record this past summer with commercial fisheries,” he says.

The fishing season was marked by another huge run in Bristol Bay. But that was accompanied by a low base price of $0.70 for fishermen. The Chignik communities saw the lowest run on record this year. 

As for state primaries, Edgemon says he’s keeping an eye on the competitive races in Southcentral, which will help decide who will be in power in the legislature. 

“The other factor, a real sort of wild card, is the fact that we’re seeing record numbers of vote by mail participation this cycle. People are electing to vote through the absentee ballot process, and even some voting early,” he says. 

A list of places to vote in person in communities around Bristol Bay can be found at Online ballots and by mail ballots must be printed out, filled out, and mailed in today.  

Independent candidate Al Gross points to Pebble, renewable energy as top Bristol Bay issues

The Democratic primary ballot for U.S. Senate features Democratic and Independent candidates vying to run against Republican Senator Dan Sullivan in the general election this November. 

One of the Independent candidates is Dr. Al Gross. He’s a lifelong Alaskan and an orthopedic surgeon. Gross is also a commercial fisher who spent time working in Bristol Bay growing up. He says that in terms of issues affecting the region, he's paying attention to the proposed Pebble Mine and access to renewable energy resources.

Gross opposes the Pebble project, and he says he was unsatisfied with the the Army Corps' final environmental impact statement of the mine, which it released in July.

“They ignored the science behind it," Gross says. "Given that it makes no sense for the area when the people Bristol Bay don’t want it. And also it puts a huge risk of the people out there, the subsistence culture of Alaska Natives and other people who live out there if the mine goes through.”

Gross says he doesn’t think Pebble will generate as much revenue or as many jobs as the commercial fishing industry.

If elected, he says, he wants to tackle the high cost of energy in rural Alaska. He’s keeping an eye on Nushagak Cooperative’s proposed hydroelectric project at Nuyakuk Falls, in the Wood Tikchik State Park.

He’s excited about the project’s potential to provide energy to the region, but says it should only go forward if the cooperative proves that it does not harm fish habitat.

Gross also wants to subsidize renewable energy companies in the state rather than putting money into oil companies.

“As our climate changes, we have to be fluid with respect to our approach towards renewable energies," he says. "I’m from Southeast Alaska, just last summer Wrangell and Ketchikan ran out of water in their hydro plant in March which is unheard of. They had a drought, so maybe we’ll have to be more creative to incorporate solar wind and hydroelectric to satisfy our energy needs.”

You can vote today! If you’re in Dillingham, you can go to city hall from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In the Bristol Bay Borough, there are polls in Naknek, King Salmon, and South Naknek. Ge t off Facebook, go make a real difference and actually vote for change!

Contact the authors at 907-842-2200