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Voter turnout heavy in Minnesota

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL - Minnesotans may disagree about a pair of proposed constitutional amendments and may not see eye to eye on candidates, but they agree on one thing: They want their voices heard.

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Big voter turnout was reported in much of the state, despite cloudy, damp, chilly weather.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had predicted 3 million Minnesotans, 78 percent of eligible voters, would go to the polls Tuesday. Official turnout numbers were not available Tuesday night.

The story from Bemidji was typical. The first voter arrived about 6:25 a.m. at Northwest Technical College, well in advance of the 7 a.m. opening.

Bemidji City Clerk Kay Murphy, who visited polling places throughout the day, said everything was going smoothly, but things were "very busy."

Problems also were reported, including a bomb threat and elections officials who may have gone too far in explaining ballots.

In west-central Minnesota, a bomb threat required a building evacuation at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College campus in Canby, which houses a polling place.

Two students discovered the words “bomb in school’’ scrawled in pen on a restroom stall door. No bomb was found, and the scene was declared safe at 1 p.m.

An effigy of President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck was tied to an electronic billboard along one of Duluth’s busiest thoroughfares during the middle of Election Day.

Duluth police were told about the effigy just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, Public Information Officer Jim Hansen said. The effigy was about 3 feet tall and had an Obama mask, Hansen said.

“It’s meant to be offensive, obviously,” Hansen said.

Officials corrected poll workers at a Cottage Grove precinct after a voter reported an election judge gave instructions on constitutional amendments beyond what is allowed.

Cottage Grove resident Mary Isely said an election judge distributing ballots was telling voters that leaving the state constitutional amendment questions unchecked would be a “no” vote.

Cottage Grove employee Joe Fischbach said he talked to election workers to make clear that poll workers are not allowed to provide the information.

A similar situation was reported in nearby Afton.

A journalist voting in Douglas County heard election officials explaining that not voting on an amendment equaled a “no” vote. When she asked about it, she said that they became defensive.

The secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, said such comments were not proper. They could be considered electioneering.

In Moorhead, David Fischer contacted the county auditor’s office after an election official handed him a ballot and informed him that leaving a ballot question blank equals a “no” vote.

“It certainly did upset me thinking that it could sway the vote one way or another,” Fischer said.

Voters were deciding in separate measures whether to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage and to require photo identification to vote in future elections.

In West Duluth, a few voters were given ballots with Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s name on them instead of Erik Simonson before the mistake was discovered 15 minutes after polls opened.

Correct ballots with Simonson’s name on them were brought in within 12 minutes.

Gauthier withdrew from the race after he admitted to having a sexual encounter with a male teen in a rest area. The state Supreme Court ordered his name removed from the ballot, replaced with Simonson.

In Minneapolis, some voting machine problems were reported.

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