Keely Nall holds her "I Voted" design

Houghtaling Elementary School fifth-grader Keely Nall holds the "I Voted" design that she submitted to the Division of Elections' art contest at Houghtaling on April 13. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

The voting stickers that many Southeast Alaska voters will wear after a trip to the polls this fall will sport an image designed and illustrated by a Ketchikan student — Keely Nall, a fifth-grader in Lucy Ortiz's class at Houghtaling Elementary School.
Nall's design, featuring the state bird (the willow ptarmigan) and state flower (the forget-me-not) earned more than 900 votes in the Alaska Division of Elections' statewide voting sticker youth art contest. Nall's was one of the four finalists chosen for the Southeast region, alongside the designs of fellow Houghtaling fifth-grader Copeland Loeffler and two students hailing from Juneau.
Ultimately, after voting closed at midnight Friday, Nall's sticker came out as the winner. Online information from the Division of Elections reports that Nall's design garnered 61% of the total votes cast. To win the election, Nall only needed 760 of the votes cast. By the end of voting on midnight Friday, she had a final count of 919. 
The contest worked as a way to help voters and students learn about the state's new ranked choice voting system rolling out this year, allowing participants to vote on a recreated ranked-choice ballot and follow along with the results, a system mimicking how it will actually work come election time.
Nall learned about the contest from her teacher, Lucy Ortiz, the student explained to the Daily News during a lunchtime interview at Houghtaling.
The sticker features a willow ptarmigan on a yellow background — chosen for the yellow of the star' on the state flag, Nall noted — surrounded by baby blue forget-me-nots.
"It was my first draft and it, like, maybe took ... a couple of days," she said. 
She wasn't expecting to be selected as the winner — it's Nall's first time competing in any sort of art contest, although she "takes any chance" she has to create work in her art class.
"I thought it was just going to be fun and I could just get into it, but then I ended up in the top four, so I was pretty excited about that and I was really nervous about it, too," Nall said.
The contest originally was due to come to a close on Wednesday, but the Division of Elections extended the cut-off date for voting until midnight Friday.
Division of Elections Public Relations Manager Tiffany Montemayor wrote to the Daily News on Tuesday afternoon that the extension was an effort to draw more participation to the contest following a "significant reduction in promoting" the contest due to the need to organize a special primary election after Congressmen Don Young's death in March. 
"Educational outreach to ensure voters are aware of and prepared for the Special Primary Election is one the of the most important parts of producing these elections," Montemayor wrote. "The Special Primary Election will be the first to use our new election system and the first ever statewide by mail election. Considering these unexpected circumstances and the challenges of communicating in such a short time period, it was crucial to shift all of our communication efforts to focus on the Special Primary Election."
"I was pretty bummed out," Nall said about the extension, which caused a delay of two days in finding out whether she was the official winner, although she was a couple hundred votes ahead of the other finalists at that time.
Chloe Hall, Nall's stepmother, commented on how it was an educational experience for everyone involved. 
"It's been really fun because it's gotten a lot of people interested in the new voting process that Alaska is going to implement, and it was really fun to watch Keely move through the different stages of the process," Hall said. "And it was really fun to teach her about it and give her some real life experiences with how the voting system works. And I was explaining this to her, so it's been a really cool way to get her involved a little bit in politics and the voting system and understanding how it works, which I think is awesome." 
Fifth-grader Copeland Loeffler, also in Lucy Ortiz's class at Houghtaling, was alongside Nall in the top four students selected as finalists for the Southeast region.
He used colored pencils to create his design; a circle rimmed with the pattern of the American flag — "that represented part of the American flag because, well, Alaska is in America," Loeffler said.
The design is further divided into two semi-circles: one decorated with the Alaska flag pattern and one with the words "I voted."
Loeffler said he came up with the idea in 10 minutes and submitted his first draft to the contest. 
He took inspiration from another artistic student in Alaska's state history: Benny Benson, a 14-year-old born in Chignik, was attending school in Seward when, in 1927, he entered his design for the Alaska territorial flag into a contest for school-aged children. Benson's design was selected and is the same design seen on the flag today.
Asked where he had heard about Benson, Loeffler said he thought that music class teacher Jillian Pollock referenced Benson's story because of the "Eight Stars of Gold" song. 
Loeffler was surprised to hear he had made the finalists ranks.
"I could not believe myself at first," he said. "Because, well, I haven't really gotten anything like this, in the top four."
Like Nall, the contest also is Loeffler's first time submitting his art into a competition. He said he sometimes tries to create "inventions," and he had tried to make a "webshooter" out of a cereal box, but the design fell short of his desired creation. 
A graph of the election results can be found at www.elections.alaska.gov