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Local residents show little interest in primary

Jeanette Lukowski leaves a voting booth Tuesday afternoon at Bemidji Township. A light turnout is being noticed through the county's polling places. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Tuesday’s primary election revealed at least one problem that must be addressed before the November general election.

Kay Mack, Beltrami County auditor, said residents along Birchmont Beach Road were attached to the wrong ward, meaning that they were told to vote in a city ward when, really, they should have been voting in Northern township.

The problem, which stems from annexation, will need to be addressed before the Nov. 6 election, Mack said.

Other than that, she said, early reports said voting was going well, albeit slowly.

“It’s going to be extremely low,” Mack said of voter turnout.

As of 4 p.m., Northern Township reported turnout was less than 6 percent, Mack noted, and turnout in Ward 5 in the city was short of 11 percent.

“It’s been slower than even I expected,” said Mary Israelson at Northern Town Hall.

As of 12:30 p.m. 95 people had voted out of 2,600 registered voters in Northern Township, she said.

Northern Township voters did not have local contested races in the primary; they voted on federal and statewide offices.

That also was the case at Eckles Town Hall, the polling place for both Eckles and Liberty townships.

As of about 12:30 p.m., 22 of 735 registered voters had voted in Eckles Township. Fifteen of 408 had voted in Liberty Township.

“We expected this,” said Mary Lou Milender, Eckles town clerk, of primary election turnout.

She said election judges first thing in the morning had a sign of what was to come: Those who usually are there right before or at the 7 a.m. opening of the polls came late themselves.

It was hard to say if voter traffic would pick up, but Milender said the busiest time for the township is usually between 4:30 and 6 p.m., as people head home from work.

Election judges at Bemidji’s five polling locations said turnout was down, as they expected for a primary, but there also weren’t many problems.

Citywide, residents could vote for their top choice for city mayor and, if they lived in Ward 5, for that ward’s city councilor.

In Ward 1, about 30 of 1,000 potential voters by 1 p.m. had gone to the American Indian Resource Center to cast their votes.

Kaitlin Graham, head election judge in that ward, said there had yet to be any problems.

“It’s been a good day so far,” she said.

The Ward 2 polling place was at the National Guard Armory, where, as of about 1 p.m., 60 people had voted of 995 registered voters, for an average of about 10 voters an hour.

By that same time, 102 voters had cast votes at Trinity Lutheran Church, the polling site for 1,744 registered voters in Ward 3.

Bemidji City Hall, the polling place for Ward 4, had seen the most voters by about 1:15 p.m. as 189 of about 1,500 voters had cast their votes.

Diana Jensen, the head election judge there, said she believed about 15 voters were coming an hour in the morning but it was picking up in the afternoon.

She also said there were nine spoiled ballots – due to voters voting for more than one party – and 12 newly registered voters.

Some voters, she said, went to the wrong polling location, which was expected as ward boundaries and polling places were revised through redistricting, done once every 10 years in response to the U.S. Census.

But, overall, things were going well at City Hall, Jensen said.

“We don’t have anything written down on the incident list yet,” she said.

Ward 5, the only ward to have a primary available for its city councilor position, had not garnered much interest from voters by early afternoon. As of about 1:30 p.m., 107 of about 1,700 voters went to vote at Northwest Technical College.