On the ground: Dispatch reporters' Election 2020 notebook

Voters wait Tuesday, Nov. 3, in the parking lot of Lord Of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter for their turn to vote on Election Day. Limitations on the number of people allowed inside because of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the lines to spill outside of the polling place. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Steady and quirky

Head Election Judge Brenda Collins at Heritage Assembly of God Church in Baxter has been an election judge for 15-16 years and this election is her third time as a head judge. Collins, who started her shift at 5:45 a.m., said an hour before the polls opened they had a line out of the door of more than a dozen people waiting to vote. Voters came in throughout the day at a steady pace and the booths were full most of the day.

One of the most quirky things that ever happened since Collins has been an election judge occurred during the last presidential election, in 2016. She said a man was in the voting booth when his tooth fell out. Jennifer Kraus, staff writer

Election pizza

The time-honored tradition of election night pizza made its way to the Brainerd Dispatch newsroom in the form of two party-sized pizzas from Rafferty’s. The bright spot of the night was a retweet of a picture of the pizza by the beloved Twitter account “Election Pizza.”

— Theresa Bourke, staff writer


Brainerd Dispatch newsroom staff stop for a socially distanced group photo before diving into election night pizza Tuesday, Nov. 3, at the Brainerd Dispatch. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Sports center serves as polling place

For those used to voting at The Center in north Brainerd, the Essentia Health Sports Center on Jackson Street in Brainerd was a new experience but one that was working smoothly, election judges said. By about 3:30 p.m. 455 voters put their ballots through the tabulator with election judges working behind plexiglass and voting booths separated for social distancing. In the mid-afternoon, voters could move right through to vote with no waiting. Arrows on the floor marked the traffic flow in and out of the sports center and a sign on the door advising voters to wear face masks inside served as a reminder of the coronavirus pandemic during this election. — Renee Richardson, managing editor

Sanitary sites

Election judges had a little more work to do to make sure everything was disinfected to follow all the guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Election judges were wiping everything down in voting booths and had a hand sanitizing station for voters to use before they entered their polling site. Voters also were given individual black pens to use to vote. Social distance markers were placed on the floors and voters had to wear a mask unless they had a medical condition. Before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, Heritage Assembly of God Church in Baxter had one voter with a medical condition who showed the judges their medical card. — Jennifer Kraus, staff writer

Election judge Bev Abear disinfects a voting booth after a voter used it to vote Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Heritage Assembly of God Church in Baxter. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

A sign of the times

In true pandemic fashion, a sign stood outside the Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd Ward 2 reading, “Designated parking for curbside voting,” followed by a phone number to call. Voters sported masks to cast their ballots but could be seen taking them off as soon as they exited the polling place. As of about 1:30 p.m., 371 Ward 2 voters passed through the doors.

— Theresa Bourke, staff writer


A curbside voting sign stands outside the Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd Ward 2 Tuesday, Nov. 3. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Summer-like weather

Brainerd appears to have tied a weather record Tuesday with a high of 72 degrees recorded at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, matching the record of 72 set in 1965. The normal high for this time of year is 46 degrees. The warm weather meant people were able to wait in line in comfort at some polling places and arrive in short-sleeve T-shirts to vote. Temperatures were mild throughout the day, reaching 49 degrees before 9 a.m. and it was twice as nice coming after record-setting snowfall and cold temperatures in October. — Renee Richardson, managing editor

Voter turnout could set records

Deborah Erickson, administrative services director who oversees elections in Crow Wing County, said there were 22,788 early absentee/mail ballots in the county as of the end of Monday, Nov. 2. That amounted to 51.55% of the county’s 44,205 registered voters.

Baxter had 2,929 early voters and 3,075 in Brainerd.

Erickson said Election Day Tuesday was a busy day but lines were moving quickly without many issues at the polling places. “I’m expecting that we are going to see record voter turnout,” Erickson said. — Renee Richardson, managing editor

Queue in Crosby

Close to 5 p.m., a line of voters extended a full city block from Crosby City Hall and more continued to arrive. Deb Marty, head election judge at the precinct, walked along the line ensuring people were aware of any documentation they might need if they needed to register to vote. Marty said she didn’t want voters to wait in line for a half-hour or more, just to find out they needed a utility bill to prove their home address.

Was Election Day 2020 everything Marty expected?

“I expected this,” Marty said. “I didn’t expect the lines all day continuously. My election judges are needing breaks, and I’ve been trying to help out with running around. It’s like, ‘Go outside, walk around for awhile,’ so that they can just get a break. It’s a long day for those ladies.” — Chelsey Perkins, community editor


Voters wait in line Tuesday, Nov. 3, to enter the polls at Crosby City Hall. Deb Marty, head election judge at the precinct, said lines occurred all day long as social distancing requirements meant fewer people were allowed inside the building at one time. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

A lesson in democracy

Kindergarten students in Mrs. Steffens’ class at Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools learned about elections Tuesday by voting for their favorite candy — Smarties or Dum Dums — according to a Facebook post. Each student secured an “I Voted” sticker after casting their ballot. — Theresa Bourke, staff writer

A family affair

In Ironton, the Giffords took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to walk to the polls as a family. This included son Jacob Gifford, 22, and his fiancee Taylor Pilarski, 23, both of whom voted for the first time Tuesday, along with the Giffords’ two youngest children, Ana and Bria.

Although both Jacob Gifford and Pilarski were old enough to vote in the 2016 presidential election, it wasn’t until this year they felt motivated to participate.

“I was putting it off, thinking my vote doesn’t really matter,” Pilarski said. “ … Probably a lot of people probably think that way, so I probably should go out and vote. Every vote matters. … I matured more I guess about it.”

“I feel like I was left out if I didn’t do it. I feel like it’s just kind of a thing you should do as an American,” Jacob Gifford said. “Last night I was just thinking about it. It was the last day to do it today. So I felt guilty if I didn’t do it.”


The whole Gifford family poses after voting Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Ironton City Hall. Taking advantage of the warm weather, the family walked to the polls. Pictured are Jacob Gifford (second from left) with his fiancee Taylor Pilarski, along with mom Mandy Gifford, dad Charles Gifford and daughters Ana and Bria. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Parents Mandy and Charles Gifford were not first-timers, and wanted their little ones to be exposed to an important aspect of American life. Both said they voted to re-elect President Donald Trump. They said as self-described “pro-lifers,” they were also pleased with how Trump handled the economy and national security.

“He’s not the greatest of people personal wise, but definitely he’s moving things in the right direction,” Charles Gifford said. “He’s getting things done that other presidents have really struggled with. It’s nice to see that our relationship with Israel, our foreign policy is moving in the right direction, bringing back jobs to the United States. It’s important. I work for a big company, and that big company benefits from what he does.”

But the Giffords said they’ll be supportive of whomever wins.

“It’s not a dictatorship. It turns around every four years, and it’s somebody different. It’s always somebody’s turn,” Mandy Gifford said.

“You don’t have to be disrespectful just because it’s somebody you didn’t vote for,” Jacob Gifford added. — Chelsey Perkins, community editor

1st-time voter

Eighteen-year-old Larissa Kleinschmidt has been waiting to vote for at least four years.

“Last election when I was 14, I was still talking to my parents and other students about it, even when I had no opportunity to vote whatsoever,” Kleinschmidt said.


Standing outside Crosby City Hall Tuesday night with her dad Kevin Kleinschmidt, the teen said despite feeling some concern over voting in person because of the coronavirus, she wanted the full voting experience for her first time.

“It’s my opportunity to use my voice and be heard,” she said. “Especially as an 18-year-old, it’s very hard to be in politics in general, so this is my way to use my voice.”

Kleinschmidt said she planned to “vote blue all the way,” but she’s careful about discussing her political views with peers.

“Definitely with the polarization of political views, you kind of have to pick where you talk about it, because it could either get a very negative view or a very similar view,” she said. “ … Not even just about Biden or Trump but definitely the different political views that tend to be more Democratic or Republican.” — Chelsey Perkins, community editor

Larissa Kleinschmidt (left) and dad Kevin Kleinschmidt wait in line to vote Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Crosby City Hall in Crosby. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Police scanner

About 9 p.m. Tuesday, a Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatcher paged authorities to respond to the historic courthouse parking lot in Brainerd for a voter, who was waiting outside, and was upset about the polls. — Jennifer Kraus, staff writer


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