Gray, damp weather does not stop Minnesota voters

Don Davis, Forum News Service, INFORUM

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.

Big voter turnout was reported in many areas, 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 today. While no running totals were available, reports from around the state indicated strong interest.

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

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."

About a dozen students were lined up to register to vote at the American Indian Resource Center on the Bemidji State University campus just before noon.

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

The bomb threat was reported at 11:24 a.m. when two female students discovered the words “bomb in school’’ scrawled in pen on a bathroom stall door in the Main Administrative Building.

No bomb was found, and the scene was declared safe at 1 p.m.

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

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

“Everyone in line, we all heard it. The place was just packed,” Isely said. “I was rather startled. My impression is that judges weren’t supposed to say anything at all about filling in (a) ballot.”

Isely went to Cottage Grove City Hall and spoke to staff.

Cottage Grove employee Joe Fischbach said he talked to election workers in Precinct 2 to make clear that poll workers are not allowed to provide the information that was being given earlier today. Election judges only can advise voters to completely fill in the ovals on their ballot.

"We're not supposed to let them know one way or the other on any of the initiatives," Fischbach said.

Jennifer Wagenius, director of Washington County Property Records and Taxpayer Services, said there was a similar complaint of election workers saying too much about the proposed constitutional amendments in an Afton precinct. County elections staff talked with poll workers there as well.

Similar reports came from Douglas County.

A journalist voting there heard elections officials explaining that not voting for 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 were considered electioneering.

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. The worker was correct about a blank ballot equaling a “no” vote, but Isley said it seemed like the judge was an amendment supporter.

In West Duluth, voters were given ballots with Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s name on them instead of Erik Simonson. A voter told an election judge about the problem at about 7:15 a.m.

Correct ballots with Simonson’s name on them were brought in within 12 minutes. Only a few ballots with Gauthier’s name on them were cast.

Until the new ballots were brought in, voters were instructed about the error and told they could write in Simonson’s name if they wished to vote for him.

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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This story contains reports from Forum Communications newspapers around Minnesota.