Biden dominates Sanders in Crow Wing County Dem primary

Election officials reported low voter turnout across the county in the ballpark of 10-12%, which would fall in line with the last presidential primary convened in Minnesota: 1992.

A voter cast's his primary vote in the commons at Lord of Life Lutheran Church Tuesday, March 3, in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Much as he had in the state of Minnesota and throughout Super Tuesday battlegrounds across much of the country, Joe Biden won and he won big in Crow Wing County.

In a day of resurgence for the former vice president, Biden doubled the votes of his main competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders to the tune of 45.5% to 22% in Crow Wing County. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden in the hours leading up to Super Tuesday — clocked roughly 12% and 9% of the vote respectively, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren garnered 8.5%.

The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse had the look of some marble-clad hospital waiting room soon after volunteers started filing dollies packed with votes into the courthouse at 8:39 p.m., Tuesday, March 3. Election judges and volunteers patiently waited on chairs and benches in front of the “Jinx” Ferrari Meeting Room, while the occasional staffer poked their head out and shouted numbers emblazoned on pink cards, calling up the next precinct to report.

Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said Tuesday’s primary was uneventful, representative of a mostly setback-free day and low voter turnout that kept volunteers fresh and available to assist the democratic process along.


“It was not necessarily fast paced and long lines, but they had people coming in all day long. So it was somewhat steady, not anywhere near the volume of a regular general election, but it's a primary and it's in March. So, it is probably what we were expecting,” Erickson said. “Because we didn't have the really long lines, there was no slowdown to any of the voters. Things have actually gone really smoothly at all the polling places across the county today.”

Notably, early in the evening Erickson said final tallies would likely place turnout from the county’s 62 precincts around the 10-12% mark, or much in line with the last Minnesota primary election in 1992 — the year Bill Clinton was elected president. While turnout was low Tuesday, residents of Crow Wing County sent in a hefty 1,776 mail-in ballots. For context, Crow Wing County voters cast 7,615 ballots in the combined Republican and Democratic primaries Tuesday.

President Donald Trump won the uncontested Republican primary with 99% of the vote.

Head election judge Arlene Fitzpatrick (left), Ally Giza and election judge Heather Meyer work together at The Center to resolve a voter's issue Tuesday, March 3, in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


Following expectations, it was more a trickle than a flood for the first statewide primary in 28 years. Volunteers and judges waited as the day dragged on while an occasional voter stopped by, with many precincts clocking about six to eight voters per hour.


Going into the final stretches of the afternoon, all of Brainerd’s eight voting precincts reported low voter turnout — and, for some veteran judges, the lowest they’ve witnessed — with stronger precincts like Ward 2 Precinct 1 in north Brainerd struggling to breach 8-10% of the electorate, while Ward 4 Precinct 2 in south Brainerd reached roughly 1% at the low end of the spectrum.

For Arlene Fitzpatrick, a veteran election judge helming the polls at The Center in north Brainerd, Super Tuesday wasn’t exactly super. While the slow trickle of voters gave volunteers more time to help their neighbors one on one, Fitzpatrick said, it was disappointing to see such a lack of enthusiasm from the local electorate.

“We expected much more beyond this. This is like watching paint dry. The numbers are still down. I mean, when I look at my iPad, I have 24 people. It is 1 o'clock in the afternoon,” Fitzpatrick said. “So, I really feel that there's a real lack, but you have to take into consideration it's winter in Minnesota. A lot of people have gone south and we have not seen what the early voting numbers are yet.”

There were a number of speculated reasons. Across the precincts, judges expressed some disappointment with the lack of turnout, but noted the switch to the primary format for the first time since 1992, cold weather keeping resident snowbirds south, a lack of information and promotion to local voters, early absentee voting, the new requirement for voters to declare their party at the booth, and other factors may have contributed.

“We're definitely seeing that having to say what party you belong to, it’s deterred several people from coming or they've expressed discontent when they've had to do it,” said Katie Kaufman, a head election judge at the Essentia Health Sports Center. “People don’t want you to know. What are they going to do with information? It’s a gray area for people.”

Kyle Kampen casts his vote Tuesday, March 3, at the Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


In addition, Republicans may have felt little need to vote during a primary for popular incumbent President Donald Trump, multiple judges said, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s recent exit from the Democratic primary may have dampened voter enthusiasm for many local Democrats.

One disappointed Klobuchar backer was Shirley Hauck, who switched to former Vice President Joe Biden for Super Tuesday — a decision, she said, that was one part born from Klobuchar’s endorsement and a second part of virulent opposition to Trump. Dissatisfied with her choices this election, Hauck said 2020 is shaping up to be an election of voting against instead of voting for something she can support.

“I don’t like Trump, so I voted for Biden. Klobuchar backed him,” Hauck said matter of factly while walking out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in south Brainerd. “I know we're in good shape. I know, part of my family's Democrat, some Republican, but I think if we get a good person and that can keep us going. I think that’s the situation most people are in, voting to stop Trump. It’s a crazy world. I hope we can change and keep it going good.”

While Hauck said she would, reluctantly, vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders if he were to win the nomination in an effort to defeat Trump, Sanders voters Christopher and Karen Mathison said they liked both leading Democratic candidates, but gave the edge to the progressive based on his platform and electability come Nov. 3.

“It's a little scary how divided the Democratic Party seems to be between Biden and Sanders, but I guess we just kind of have to see how it plays out,” Christopher Mathison said as he and Karen Mathison sauntered back to their cars in the Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot. “I guess I based my vote off of the fact that I think that, in my eyes, Bernie is probably going to win the nomination, if you were to ask me, and he has a better chance at beating Trump than Joe Biden.”

However, if the largely one-horse race for the Republican nomination kept most GOP voters home, it didn’t stop Kurt and Vicky Peterson from exercising what they deemed their time-honored civic duty to vote — her with mixed feelings, him less so. Both Petersons said they disagreed with Trump’s abrasive approach and questionable lifestyle, while Kurt Peterson lauded the effectiveness of his presidency and Vicky described her vote as the lesser of two evils compared to the Democrats.

“Yeah, he’s not my spiritual leader and he’s not my spokesman for other things, but

he gets the job done,” Kurt Peterson said. “He has a different moral compass, but that hasn’t affected his work for me in office, so I can set that aside.”


Vicky Peterson expressed a more cynical view of the election as a whole.

“You know, sometimes you may be picking the best of the worst,” she said with a chuckle as the two of them huddled in the blustery parking lot of the Essentia Health Sports Center. “I’m glad to see what he’s done for the country and I don't know how he can keep getting up in the morning with opposition against him. He’s a much stronger person than I am.”

The American flag reflects in the door of Lord of Life Church in Baxter Tuesday, March 3, during Super Tuesday primary voting. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Outside of Brainerd/Baxter

Things were slow but steady at the Lake Edward Town Hall during the morning hours as there were 114 ballots in the box just after noon Tuesday. The Lake Edward Township precinct has 1,523 registered voters.

Carrie Guida, Lake Edward Township head judge, said they typically see more retired people voting in the morning and the younger people go to the polls when they get off work. She said the precinct typically has an 80% voter turnout during a presidential election.

Guida said voters didn’t have a lot of questions about the voting process Tuesday. People who vote on Super Tuesday “know what’s going on,” she said. However, not every person in the township may have known everything they needed to know.

“We've had two voters come in (before noon) and then declined to vote over the party preference option,” Guida said. “As part of the voter check-in process, they have to state their party preference for which ballot they're going to get. And when they sign the voter oath ... they’re reaffirming that they adhere to the major principles of that party. ... It is holding the voter accountable for the choice they are making when they get their ballot.”


Lake Edward Township Clerk Martha Look said if people want to vote, they have to make a decision on which political party they want and not “everybody agrees to that.”

With a cutout of Paul Bunyan in the background, Katie Kaufman, head election judge for Brainerd Ward 2 Precinct 1, helps voter Bryn Waters at the Essentia Health Sports Center Tuesday, March 3. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Guida said having voters state their voter preference is new — Super Tuesday is new to the county and many have never voted in a presidential primary before. She said it makes sense for people to pick their party when they vote in the primary election.

Look has been with the township since 1974, serving as town clerk and head judge. This year, she is bowing out and having Guida be head judge and training in someone new for clerk. That someone is Loni Burnard, who served as deputy clerk Tuesday. Burnard is learning the ropes and hopes to succeed Look when she retires.

“It's difficult leaving. ... It's been over 40 some years and I’ve always been a head judge since Day 1,” Look said. “It's a hard decision to know when to leave, but I've (made my decision) and I’m sticking to it.”

Guida said to Look, “I appreciate your years of service and dedication to a good election process. I think Minnesota has got a great election process. I think the fact that we can back everything up on paper is really important. And you've been a good steward of that process.”

Burnard said this is her first time participating in the election process with the township. She took all the election classes and learned how to use the equipment.


“Today I am kind of watching and helping where I am needed,” Burnard said of the six judges who were at the polls.

Look said typically they are so busy during elections that they don’t have a chance to eat, but Tuesday it appeared, “We’re going to eat all day.”

It smelled like sloppy Joes when entering the Crow Wing Town Hall, south of Brainerd. One election judge grabbed a plate of goodies for lunch — she had time as the voter turnout was slow. As of 1 p.m. there were 58 ballots in and four people staffing the polls.

Darlene Jillson, who served as head judge for Crow Wing Township, said the polls were slow during the morning hours and their first voter, who arrived at 7 a.m., was proud to be the first one.

Jillson said they had enough food to eat and also were celebrating one of the judge’s birthdays.

Just after lunch, Bob Jones, a Crow Wing Township voter, arrived at the polls. Jones said he has always been a voter.

“I was out collecting eggs out of the chicken house today and the rooster approached me and, you know, suggested that I get my feathers over here to get done,” Jones said. “And so that's what I'm here for.”

Jones said he had a good conversation with the clerk and election judge officials.

“They were very politically correct,” Jones said, adding no one mentioned his voting preference and he said he had an enjoyable time.

A voter walks out of Lord of Life Church in Baxter Tuesday, March 3, after casting his vote in the primary election. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


The consensus among Baxter election judges Tuesday afternoon was a slow, but fairly steady day, as was expected.

“We don’t expect a whole lot of voters on a primary day,” said Russ Goldstein, head election judge at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church. “Obviously with the race on the Democrat side, you’ve got a lot more motivation to come in and vote.”

As of about 12:15 p.m., 64 voters cast their ballots at Baxter City Hall. About 128 came through Lord of Life Lutheran Church by 12:45 p.m., and the ballot counter at Lakewood struck 56 just before 1 p.m. Lakewood judges said there were 1,000 registered voters in the precinct when polls opened and they reported one new registration by early afternoon.

Judges at Lord of Life Lutheran Church were pleasantly surprised to see a few young, first-time voters turn out, which they said is exciting for a primary election.

No matter who walked through the door, judge Daniel Rudnitski said he enjoyed talking with everyone and feeling a sense of camaraderie.

Operations ran as smoothly as the stream of voters in Baxter, and Goldstein said he was surprised not to hear any comments at all about voters having to declare their party before casting ballots.

“We thought we would have some people bringing it up, but we haven’t had anybody bring it up so far,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

A voter with a child walks into The Church on the Wise Road, which is serving as the Unorganized Territory Blue Precinct Tuesday, March 3. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Unorganized Territory

Judges at The Church on Wise Road, the Blue Precinct in Unorganized Territory, said voters made note of the party choice, but didn’t seem to mind it too much.

“We expected people to be less happy about having to pick a party, and they’ve been surprisingly happy today,” Shelly Bircham said. “... It hasn’t been an issue at all. A couple have expressed that they didn’t like the privacy issue that much, but it wasn’t like they were upset.”

Fellow judge Erica Jones said it can always be interesting to see what kind of error messages might pop up on the registration tablets, too, but neither judge reported anything challenging or out of the ordinary this year.

“We haven’t had to call the county crying with any catastrophes, so that’s always a good day,” Bircham said.

At the Red Precinct polling place at Crow Wing Power, voters trickled in slowly over the noon hour. Two such voters were Sher and Terry Klein, who said they were undecided between Democratic candidates up until Monday evening. They ultimately opted for former Vice President Joe Biden after both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped out before Tuesday’s contest.
“I like the fact that he’s got some old morals, standards. You know, he’s easy-going, he’s forgiving,” Sher Klein said. “He’s empathetic, you know, and he’s had 40-plus years of experience in the government.”

Although happy to vote for Biden, she still mourned Buttigieg’s exit in particular.

“Our society has changed so much, and then with all the military stuff that’s been going on, Buttigieg would be awesome,” Sher Klein said. “He’s younger, gay, open about it, not ashamed of it, religious, miliary experience — perfect. He can relate to younger people.”

Another concern the couple expressed about Biden was his staying potential.

“I was a little worried about getting someone in that might only be there for four years,” Sher Klein said, “because I don’t think it can be mended in four years.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

What To Read Next
Get Local