Flocking to the polls: Beltrami county residents vote in general election

110420.N.BP.VOTING-Boys and girls.jpg
Ward 3 residents wait outside the Bemidji Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday to vote in the general election. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Pioneer reporters and photographers headed out to polling places both big and small around Beltrami County on Tuesday morning. Here is what they saw.

Boys and Girls Club, Ward 3 polling place

On Tuesday morning, the line for voting was out the door at the Boys and Girls Club, which head election judge Linda Jackson said had been the norm since opening.

110420.N.BP.VOTING-Boys and girls 2.jpg
Ward 3 residents fill out their ballots at the Bemidji Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday during the general election. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

“We’ve had a solid line since we opened,” she said. “The election is generally busy so, so far, it’s true to that.”


By 8:30 a.m., Jackson had already assisted her first curbside voting, in which she helped a voter cast their ballot from their car.

“We heard from City Hall that we did get a lot of mail-in votes, so there is going to be a reduced amount (of voters),” Jackson said. “But I think for a general election, everybody is out, so that’s good.”

- Bria Barton

Alaska Town Hall, Alaska Township polling place

Twenty miles north of Bemidji, in a more than 100-year-old school-house-turned-town-hall, Alaska township voters cast their ballots from within handmade red and blue star-covered curtains, under the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

110420.N.BP.VOTING7 Gandsey.jpg
A voter exits Alaska Town Hall after casting a ballot in the general election on Tuesday in Alaska Township. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Sitting behind an old metal school teacher’s desk was Alaska Township clerk and election judge, Rita Andree, who said she’s been helping voters there for over 29 years.

“It’s a piece of history,” she said of the building, and pulled out historical documents with names of the first Alaska Township residents. She guessed the building was around 113 years old.


110420.N.BP.VOTING6 Gandsey.jpg
Election Judge Rita Andree checks to find out how old Alaska Town Hall is on Election Day in Alaska Township. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Liz Frenzel and Pam Kaasa were also working at the polling place, handing out ballots and reminding voters to flip them over. The two said they have also been election officials for at least a decade each.

The three women said they had seen nine voters so far -- the polling place had only been open for a half-hour or so at the time -- and had around 130 registered voters on the roster. There were 35 absentee voters from the township this year, they added.

Andree greeted a few of the voters that trickled in, recognizing one despite his face mask. She said she, “knew most of the old-timers that come in here,” adding that she’s lived in the township for 42 years.

Alaska Town Hall was adorned with signs directing traffic flow, but as of late morning, just a handful of voters had wandered in. A hand sanitizer station was in place by the door, but the hand sanitizer jug was missing. When asked about it, Andree said it had frozen overnight. Someone was out fetching more.

-Hannah Olson

Bemidji National Guard Armory, Ward 2 polling place

Before doors opened at 7 a.m. to the Bemidji National Guard Armory, a mass of early rising voters stood outside its doors, eager to cast their votes.


Teresa Hanson, the head election judge over the Ward 2 polling place, said she and her fellow election judges were initially unsure what this year’s voter turnout would be like. But upon unlocking the doors, found a line of folks ready to submit their ballots before heading off to work for the day.

“We had people lined up and waiting when we opened,” Hanson said. “Some people stood in line for a little while, but at least it’s not two hours like in Texas or some of those other states where people have been waiting for hours.”

But by around 8 a.m., there was a lull in voting and only a handful of voters intermittently walked through the polling place’s doors.

110420.N.BP.VOTING-Armory 1.jpg
Ward 2 residents fill out their ballots at the Bemidji National Guard Armory on Tuesday during the general election. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji resident Angela Riley, 36, was one of the few, and she was there with a purpose: “Today is most important to me because I need to vote Trump out,” she said.

Riley, who identifies as LGBTQ, said she believed the Republican Party has downplayed racism and discrimination affecting minority groups.

“I really don’t like how people who are different are discriminated against, and how it’s become OK with our current leader,” Riley said. “The whole attitude toward the LGBTQ community and Black, Indigenous and people of color is really heartbreaking and inappropriate, and it needs to end. There needs to be a new path.”


Engress Clark, 32, was also on her way to work when she stopped in to vote. She said she wasn’t initially going to vote but changed her mind after considering the events of the past year.

“A lot of things happened this year that were pretty heavy, and I just thought it was really important to vote today,” Clark said.

- Bria Barton

Northern Town Hall, Northern Township polling place

Between 9 and 9:30 a.m. the line of voters at Northern Town Hall never made it past the building’s threshold, but there was a consistent, steady flow of traffic.

Many of those coming in and going out with “I voted” stickers affixed to their shirts, commented on the mild temperatures. At the time, the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the low 60s.

Inside the town hall, running the show, was Mary Israelson. She’s the clerk for Northern Township and has been working elections for 28 years.

Israelson was one of four “Mary’s” working in the polling place that day, she remarked.


110420.N.BP.VOTING3 Gandsey.jpg
Mary Israelson, clerk for Northern Township, hands a ballot to a voter on Election Day at Northern Town Hall. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

By 9:30, voter number 362 had just cast their ballot. She said they were still expecting more than 2,300 voters, and estimated close to half of people registered in Northern Township had voted early.

“It’s been busy,” she said. “I think it’s fairly similar to a normal election.”

Israelson said there weren’t too many significant changes to her job since the last election, but that in her 28 years of service, there have been some big ones.

“Of course from the beginning, I started back from when we had the little tab things," she said. "Over the years, there’s been a lot of changes you know, now of course with the electronic registration it’s way slicker.”

Joan and Ron Turney both turned out to Northern Town Hall on Tuesday to vote for Joe Biden. They said they were feeling good going into Election Day.

“I voted for Mr. Biden,” Joan said. “I think he’s the one that will be able to do this.”

The two spoke about the issues most important to them, which were COVID-19, addressing housing inequities, healthcare, the economy and veterans’ resources.


Justine Guderian came to Northern Town Hall to vote for Trump. She said she has voted in every general election for at least the last 30 years.

Guderian also said she was feeling good going into Election Day. She opted to vote in person because she wanted to make sure her vote was counted.

“I want to make sure that my vote is actually counted right away, and I don’t trust what’s going to happen with the absentee ballots,” she said.

-Hannah Olson

BSU’s American Indian Resource Center, Ward 1 polling place

Poll workers were kept busy at Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center, where Ward 1 residents cast their ballots.

Election judges there said they had extra help this time around while managing a steady flow of voters coming through the doors.

110420.N.BP.VOTING1 Gandsey.jpg
Catherine Marchand helps a voter on Election Day at Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

-Jillian Gandsey

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
What To Read Next
Get Local