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Primary narrows field for local positions

Kath Molitor, right, was part of a full line-up of primary election voters at Northern Township early Tuesday morning. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A sprawling Beltrami County DFL Headquarters, formerly Iverson Corner Drug in downtown Bemidji, was nearly vacant Tuesday evening.

Instead, party officials decided Monday to hold their victory party at the Hampton Inn & Suites, primarily because it has cable and watchers could follow the results of Tuesday's gubernatorial primary election.

"We think there was a pretty high turnout," said Gwenina Fiskevold, one of two DFL caucus workers still doing get-out-the-vote calls from DFL HQ about 7 p.m.

Fiskevold was working the phones for DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Heather Avenson was working the phones for Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

Persell was the only local legislator facing a primary Tuesday, challenged by Mark Thorson of Bemidji. Persell advanced by a margin of 2,383 to 1,334.

"From what I've heard, he has a lot of support," Avenson said of Persell, who called DFL_leaning voters to urge them to vote Tuesday.

Fiskevold said she heard a lot of support for Kelliher, who faced challenges from former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza. Dayton is the likely winner, but his narrow margin over Kelliher leaves the final result in question this morning.

"I'm very supportive of Margaret, but I will support whoever comes out of the primary, as long as we win in November," Fiskevold said.

Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack expected results of Beltrami County races to be tabulated by midnight, with a new process being used to tabulate absentee ballots after the 2008 U.S. Senate race.

Mack couldn't predict Tuesday's voter turnout, but said it usually is boosted with local races of interest.

The city of Bemidji had three City Council posts to narrow down, including that of mayor.

Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist was challenged by Reed Olson and Dick Sathers while an open at-large post featured Linda Lemmer, Byron Rock and Jim Thompson. Hellquist and Sathers advanced, as did Thompson and Lemmer.

With Mayor Richard Lehmann seeking the House 4A seat as a Republican, the mayoral race to succeed him featured Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson, Dave Lalone, Dave Larson, Pedie Pederson and Adam Steele. Larson and Johnson were the top vote getters and will move on to the Nov. 2 general election.

Mack said there was also a Kelliher School District referendum asking voters permission to transfer funds and Blackduck School District referendum asking voters to approve an $800,000 levy for repairs and bus purchases. Kelliher voters supported the referendum by a 223-33 margin. Blackduck voters also approved their measure by a 462-308 margin.

The Red Lake School Board held a primary, with Barb Thomas, Roy Nelson and Arnold Pemberton advancing.

"The city might be a little higher, and the school districts," Mack said Tuesday night at the counting center in the County Administration Building.

"Today went really well," she said of primary voting, "even in light of us trying to reinvent how we process absentees. I think we've created a pretty good system for managing it."

She explained that county staff now handles absentee ballots, rather than at the precinct level. Mack appointed an absentee ballot board which counted those ballots for the county, and then added the totals to the regular precinct vote totals.

"That's the really significant change, especially to the counties,""Mack said. "We send none of the absentee ballots to the precincts. It made for a kind of complicated Election Day, as far as what we have to do with rosters to make sure people didn't vote at the polling place and submit an absentee."

Summaries from the polling place will be far less complicated, however, she said. "We won't have some of those difficult balancing acts when we try to figure out where all their votes came from."

With four mail ballot townships, Mack said there was a high incidence of people writing down a witness but neglecting to put their address.

"We contacted them and made the changes necessary to accept those ballots," Mack said. "We just bend over backwards for every single vote."