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Chippewa County sees high voter turnout

Mike Milbrandt

In the frenetic weeks between Minnesota’s State Primary and Election Day, it was clear that this year’s General Election would be somewhat different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was anticipated that there would be a higher-than-normal request for absentee and mail-in ballots, and that is precisely what happened.

A week after last Tuesday’s General Election, Chippewa County Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May offered some insight into how the election went. She said: “Overall, things went very well on Election Day. No major issues were reported. Polling places were open for voting at 7 a.m. and they were able to provide their results in a timely fashion at the end of the night.”

Voter turnout in the county was markedly higher when the numbers of those voting in person at the polls was combined with those voting by absentee or mail-in ballot. “This year’s total voter turnout was 93.82 percent,” said May. “Of the total ballots cast, 43 percent were cast at the polls on Election Day and 57 percent were cast via mail-in/absentee ballot.”

Although May didn’t have specific numbers yet, she felt confident in saying that this year’s participation in mail-in and absentee voting was unusually high. She said: “Without having all the historical numbers in front of me, I’d say this year was much higher for mail-in and absentee ballots. The traffic in the Auditor’s Office was exponentially more than past elections with people dropping off ballots or voting early.”

The high number of mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, and early voting combined to make for a quiet Election Day at county polling places. “I heard from a few precincts that there were lines at 7 a.m. when the polls opened, but after the initial rush, things settled down. There were steady numbers of voters, but the numbers were not overwhelming. I think the amount of early voting really helped keep the congestion and wait time down at our polling places, which was beneficial to everyone,” said May.

Concerns over COVID-19 prompted the county to take precautionary measures at its polling places. “We were happy with the COVID response procedures which were put in place. I believe every polling place had plexiglass barriers, and we outfitted everyone with masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and procedures for cleaning.”

Even in a “normal” election year there are logistical challenges to face. The uncertainty of voter turnout is always one, and there are the challenges of securing enough election judges and other poll workers. “Our election judges did an excellent job of handling questions from voters. We had a great group of Election Judges who were willing to work the polls during a pandemic, and I even had a number of people volunteer as Election Judges in case we experienced shortages,” said May.

It takes a concerted effort to ensure that elections are run smoothly, and May is very grateful to the many people who made this year’s Election Day go so well. She said: “I want to thank our city and township clerks for all their hard work in preparing for Election Day and adjusting to the changes we had to make to keep everyone safe. Thanks also to our election judges and poll workers who provided such good service on Election Day. I’m proud of all the people in our communities who helped make Election Day safe and ensure that everyone had the opportunity to vote.”