Primary Election reporter’s notebook

Katie Kaufman (right), who served as the head judge at Ward 2 at the Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd, helped a voter Tuesday, Aug. 11. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd Dispatch file photo

A learning process

Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said the Tuesday, Aug. 11, primary election served as an opportunity to see what worked and what could be improved during the November general election.

With a variety of new considerations and procedures in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, Erickson said it’s a learning experience for everyone, from those in charge to precinct judges to voters. One major change in election night operations was the typical second-floor gathering at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse this year was canceled. Election judges are expected to call when they arrive with ballots, and county employees will review their information curbside. On a typical election night, the ballots are wheeled into the historic courthouse by the judges.

Erickson said about 120 voters visited the historic courthouse to vote Tuesday — most who lived in precincts that use mail balloting, but preferred to vote in person. Erickson said every year, she receives reports from election judges of voters in new mail ballot districts going to a nearby precinct’s polling place and attempting to vote, and this year wasn’t different. Those voters always have the option of going to Brainerd to vote in person, she noted.

As for compliance with regulations in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Erickson said she’d received no reports as of 7:30 p.m. Tuesday of issues with voters not wearing masks or social distancing properly.

One issue of note was a high number of spoiled ballots reported at precincts, as voters crossed party lines and voted for candidates in more than one political party. She said she expected overvoting to occur in absentee and mail ballots as well, but noted those who voted correctly in the nonpartisan Crow Wing County commissioner race would still have that vote counted.


— Chelsey Perkins

Acing social distancing

Judges at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Brainerd’s Ward 4 said turnout was “sporadic at best” for the primary election Tuesday, but the slow day came with a silver lining.

“On the plus side, we’ve aced social distancing,” judge Shelly Birchem joked.

Judge Cheryl Plouffé said those who came in had been really considerate of each other, even if the busiest time only saw about four or five voters at a time.

“And that only happened maybe once, so it was memorable,” Plouffé said with a laugh.

As of 6 p.m., 124 voters had come through the polling place. The two precincts of Ward 4 had 1,702 registered voters that morning, Assistant Head Election Judge David Chanski said, meaning about 7.3% of those registered had come through the doors with two hours left to go. Undoubtedly, though, some voters in the ward chose to vote by absentee ballot in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was surprised that it went as well as it did and that in the middle of a pandemic that we could have an election,” Birchem said. “... I think people are aware that times are different, and the county really did a good job with all the Plexiglas and the hand sanitizer.”

— Theresa Bourke


Slow going

Just before 5:45 p.m., an empty Northeast Brainerd Fire Station, save for the election judges, was a testament to the slow voting day. The ballot counter had registered 138 voters at the time, and Head Election Judge Gordy Murphy said the low turnout was to be expected.
“I think we all expected it to be light with the absentee vote,” he said, referring to the likely higher number of absentee ballots cast in light of the pandemic.

Consolidating Brainerd’s voting precincts from eight down to four — again, due partially to COVID-19 — didn’t seem to be an issue for Ward 3 voters.

“I think they did a good job of preparing us for that,” Murphy said. “We had signage, the poll tabs were set up and programmed, and we were told exactly where they went, so there was no confusion. I think it went pretty easy.”

— Theresa Bourke

Ward 2 runs smoothly

Katie Kaufman, head judge of Brainerd’s Ward 2 polling place at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd, said around noon Tuesday they had more spoiled ballots than actual voted ballots, as people voted for more than one political party in the primary election. In the primary, voters are allowed to only vote for one political party.

“On the bottom of the ballot it says vote both front and back and people are thinking they need to vote on both sides,” Kaufman said of the confusion.

Kaufman said most of the voters who had a spoiled ballot voted again and submitted it correctly.

Kaufman, who has been an election judge for about 4-5 years, said judges were busier for the primary than usual as the polling site handled both Ward 2 precincts. Before noon there were about 60 votes cast.


Kaufman said there are so many variables that play a role in people heading to the polls for primary, including COVID-19. She said people may skip voting during the primary to be more safe with the pandemic, but will probably be more willing to go out during the general election.

Kaufman said everyone coming into the sports center has been respectful and wore a mask. If they didn’t have a mask, the polling sites had some available. She said everything was going smoothly.

Vicki Peterson was one of the people who had a misunderstanding of the ballot and primary election voting procedures and needed to recast her votes along party lines.

“They were very kind,” Peterson said of the mix-up.

Betty Alderman, a 93-year-old Brainerd resident who hasn’t left her home often during the pandemic, said it is a privilege to get out and vote. She said she wanted to vote in person and she felt safe.
“I will get out and vote for as long as I can do it,” Alderman said. “That’s just the way I feel.”

When asked if she wanted to state any of her political views on primary day, she said, “No, I just think the good Lord will direct us in the right direction. I trust him.”

— Jennifer Kraus

Fine voting in person

On the south side of Brainerd, Lowell Scearcy was voting in Ward 1 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Buffalo Hills Lane. Scearcy said he has voted absentee before but felt fine voting in person, as that is what he prefers.


“It’s all good,” Scearcy said of being at the polling site. “I was out walking and my wife called me and said ‘Make sure you vote,’ so I stopped in.”

Scearcy said voting is important and he makes sure he gets out to vote.

— Jennifer Kraus

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