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Brainerd to expand polling places in wake of pandemic

After consolidating locations for the 2020 election, Brainerd will return to two polling places for each ward, with the exception of Ward 4.

Four people walk into Bethlehem Lutheran church.
Voters file into Bethlehem Lutheran Church in east Brainerd to vote during the primary election in August 2018.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Brainerd’s polling places for the 2022 elections will return mostly to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Polling places were consolidated from eight to four in 2020 , as some were no longer available to be used as polling places because of the pandemic. The move also required shorter shifts for election judges, who have been increasingly difficult to secure, and cost the city less for the 2020 election.

Brainerd has four wards, each with two precincts except for Ward 3, which has three precincts. Before 2020, each precinct had its own polling place, with the exception of Ward 3, Precinct 3, which has fewer than 10 people. Because a separate polling place for that precinct would not be cost effective, it is combined with Precinct 2.

Each city ward is represented by a specific City Council member, and there are three at-large council members who can live in any ward. Brainerd is the only city in Crow Wing County with geographically specific representation.

While city staff said the condensed locations worked well to facilitate the election during the day for the 2020 election, having two precincts vote in one location essentially doubled the workload at the end of the night. Staff presented a proposal to the council Monday, March 21, to return to separate polling places for each precinct, with the exception of Ward 4, which brought special challenges and will retain only one polling location.

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The polling place for Ward 4, Precinct 1 was Harrison Elementary School for several years but was not used as of 2018 because of security concerns. The location moved to Carefree Living for the 2018 election. While those at the facility were very accommodating, city staffers said it was not conducive as a polling place. With few other options in Ward 4, staff brought three possible solutions to the council Monday.

Voting Wards.JPG
Brainerd is split into four voting wards and nine precincts.
Courtesy city of Brainerd

The first option was to continue with St. Andrew’s Catholic Church as the only location in Ward 4, consistent with the 2020 election.

The second option was to go outside the ward. Staff secured Halvorson-Taylor Life Event Center — which is about four blocks outside the ward — as a possible location for Precinct 2.

The third option was to also go outside the ward but use Trinity Lutheran Church as a Ward 4 voting location rather than Ward 1. Ward 1, Precinct 1 would then change to Central Lakes College. The cons of this plan, staff noted, were it could cause confusion for Ward 1 voters, it would require Ward 4 voters to travel across South Sixth Street, and it could be difficult to direct voters to the right place at CLC.

Council member Gabe Johnson, who represents Ward 4, said he would prefer two polling places; however, the two options that would allow for two locations mean residents have to travel farther to vote.

“For this election cycle, I think just keeping St. Andrew’s is probably the best solution, with hoping moving forward we can get back into Harrison school,” he said. “When they kicked us out, it was a security issue. They have since reconstructed the gym to be accessed from the outside and blocked off from the school, so that might be a potential for future years.”

The rest of the council agreed with Johnson and established the polling places as follows for the 2022 election:

  • Ward 1, Precinct 1: Trinity Lutheran Church, 1420 S. Sixth St.
  • Ward 1, Precinct 2: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 101 Buffalo Hills Lane.
  • Ward 2, Precinct 1: Essentia Health Sports Center, 502 Jackson St.
  • Ward 2, Precinct 2: The Center, 803 Kingwood St.
  • Ward 3, Precinct 1: Northeast Brainerd Fire Station, 1301 Mill Ave.
  • Ward 3, Precincts 2 and 3: Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 418 Eighth Ave. NE.
  • Ward 4, Precincts 1 and 2: St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, 1108 Willow St.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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