Incumbent Houge leading in District 5 race, Starry in 2nd

Candidate Tom Nixon says he’s considering write-in campaign headed into the general election.

Head Ironton judge Amanda Meyer (left) and judges Becky Ridlon, Kathy Biever and Linda Chamberlin wait outside the Ironton City Hall for voters Tuesday, Aug. 11, during the state primary. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Crow Wing County Commissioner Doug Houge maintained a commanding lead Tuesday, Aug. 11, in the three-way primary race in District 5.

With 47.29% of the vote, the incumbent led challengers Michael Starry of Ironton and Tom Nixon of Deerwood Township. Starry counted 31.31% of votes, while Nixon received 21.4%.

Out of 20 precincts in the district — which covers the northeastern portion of the county, including the cities of Crosby, Cuyuna, Deerwood, Emily, Fifty Lakes, Ironton, Manhattan Beach, Riverton and Trommald — Houge had more votes than Starry and Nixon in 14. Starry led in six districts: Little Pine Township, Fairfield Township, Perry Lake Township, Emily, Fifty Lakes and Trommald. Nixon did not lead in any district.

While vote tallies reported Tuesday night represent a majority of those cast in the primary election, absentee and mail ballots will be accepted through Thursday, as long as envelopes are postmarked by Tuesday.


Reached by phone about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Houge said he felt good about the results.

Crow Wing County Commissioner Doug Houge. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“I think again people recognize that we’re in some different times and I think again the experience that I can bring to the table is important right now, and there’s a lot of moving parts in county government right now, amongst other things,” Houge said. “I think it’s just critical to have that experience to take us and get us through these next few years of not only critical budget work but just overall just trying to keep the county in balance. I’m hopeful that going forward I’ll make it through November and we’ll continue to do that work.”

Starry, who if the results hold through the remaining mail ballots will move forward to the general election, said he thought the number of votes he received seemed high for someone who didn’t do a lot of campaigning.

“I’d say that’s pretty good for a guy who didn’t campaign, didn’t knock doors, only sent out a flyer and had a Facebook page,” Starry said by phone. “Imagine what will happen if I actually campaign.”

County board candidate Michael Starry. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch


Starry said the support he received in the northern areas of the district reflect a desire of voters to not allow the city of Crosby to run the show, and he commended fellow challenger Nixon.

“I really appreciate Tom Nixon’s effort, he put up a heck of a fight. I think that was pretty fantastic, getting in at the last minute,” Starry said. “He ran a good campaign, so I think that was pretty wonderful.”

Nixon said the night didn’t go as well as he’d expected, noting he’d felt some momentum in his campaign in the last week or so.

“I really had a sense going into today that there had been some momentum in the last week and especially the last few days that there was some concerns about the other candidates and their performance, whether it’s at the board table or the way that they’re going to get along,” Nixon said.

Crow Wing County Board candidate Tom Nixon. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

But Nixon said he did not have a concession speech planned yet, and said if things don’t shift much or move more in his favor after the last votes are counted, he will strongly consider a write-in campaign in the district. With fewer than 2,400 voters weighing in so far in the district out of more than 7,600 registered voters, Nixon said he doesn’t think it’s clearly decided.

“My supporters have been texting and calling, ‘Don’t feel bad about it, don’t feel bad about it, we’re not done yet, you’re still running,’” Nixon said. “ … We’ll watch what comes in and if it’s been clearly decided by the voters, I’m not stubborn enough to try to stick with something, but if it stays where we’re at or even a little better, I think I would probably look at doing a write-in campaign. And as difficult as those are, I’ve invested this far and I’ve had this much support, I should continue.”


At the polls

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Ironton head judge Amanda Meyer said things were going smoothly, with just 64 voters casting their ballots out of 306 eligible voters. In Crosby, 207 voters visited the city hall to vote in person as of 6:15 p.m. with 1,310 eligible voters. And in Deerwood Township, as the last hour of voting drew to a close, 230 of approximately 900 registered voters made their preferences known at the town hall.

Maxine Fisher votes in teh primary Tuesday, Aug. 11, at the Crosby City Hall. Precautions were taken at all the polls for social distancing and sanitizing surfaces for prevention of Covid-19. Steve Kohls / Brianerd Dispatch

Election judges at all three precincts noted a significant number of spoiled ballots, as voters overvoted by selecting candidates for more than one political party in state races. In conjunction with the nonpartisan county board race, judges said the ballot was confusing for some.

Deerwood Township head judge Carol Pundt, who also serves as township clerk for Bay Lake Township, said she was concerned voters in mail ballot districts may not get their votes counted due to spoiled ballots. She said even with instructions for each voter at the polling place, nearly 30 voters needed to fill out new ballots after mistakes. Crosby head judge Deb Marty said they’d spoiled about 40 ballots as of 6:15 p.m.

Crosby voter Deb Seamans (left) listens to Crosby head judge Deb Marty at the Crosby City Hall Tuesday, Aug. 11, during primary voting. Wearing masks and working behind Plexiglas, the election judges directed voters throughout the poll with the first primary under Covid 19 restrictions. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson, head of elections in the county, said while some who voted by mail may have crossed party lines in statewide races, those in District 5 who properly voted in the county commissioner race would still see those votes count.

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

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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