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Primary voters likely to exert considerable sway today

Today, local voters will narrow the field of candidates vying for seats on Duluth’s city council and school board.

The polls for this primary election will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and those voters who turn out probably will exert greater influence than their sheer numbers might suggest. That’s because turnout for such a local primary is expected to be rather light, with no mayoral, state legislative, gubernatorial or congressional races on the line.

At the last comparable primary, in September 2013, fewer than 13 percent of Duluth’s registered voters took part, casting just 6,709 ballots. That’s about one-third the turnout which participated just two months later in that year’s November general election.

The usual suspects when it comes to primary voters tend to wield disproportionate influence in the political process, observed Jim Stauber, a former Duluth City Council member who was elected three times.

“What I’ve always been told about the primaries is that your hard-core voters and party members typically will show up. In a way, it’s a bit of a shame because the rest of the public is basically letting the two major parties make the decision about who’s going to move forward when in fact it should be up to all voters to have a say on who ought to move forward to the general election,” he said.

“With 13 percent turnout, people are really representing maybe six, seven or eight people with every single vote. And the parties and the PACs (political action committees) all know that. So the primaries can really make a difference,” Stauber said.

Alan Netland, president of the North East Area Labor Council, said local organizers are taking nothing for granted.

“It is a winnowing process, right? That’s what the primary system is all about. A lot of people don’t pay attention, but there are big differences between the candidates. So we’ve been out door-knocking, phoning, and we may have done some mailings for our endorsed candidates. We’re taking it seriously,” he said.

Netland is counting on union members to turn out the vote again this primary.

“We’ve been making a pretty concerted effort. If other people don’t, all the better. But we’re going to do what we need to do,” he said.

Given the anticipated light primary turnout, Stauber said engaged candidates have a real opportunity to make a difference.

“If you have a core group, whether it’s party faithfuls or family or friends or co-workers — whatever it might be — it can make a huge difference. And you’ll probably see some races as tight as 100 votes, maybe even tighter. That’s pretty easy to make up if you really encourage your base to come out,” he said.

Loosened restrictions on absentee voting in advance of the primary election make it easier than ever for people to participate these days, Stauber said.

“Four years ago this wasn’t available, but today, you can cast an absentee ballot for any reason. You don’t actually have to be gone or sick or incapable,” he said.

Netland agreed, saying: “The early balloting is making a difference I think, because you don’t need to come up with a BS excuse. You just go and say, ‘I want to vote.’ Nobody asks you any questions. You can just do it.”

The following City Council races will be on today’s ballot in Duluth:

  • At Large City Council: Four of seven candidates vying for two seats will advance from the primary. Incumbents Zack Filipovich and Barb Russ will face five challengers: Janet Kennedy, Brandon Sorvik, Jan Swanson, Rich Updegrove and Rich Williams.
  • 4th District City Council: A field of three candidates will be narrowed to two, as incumbent Howie Hanson runs against Tom Furman and Renee Van Nett.

One School Board race will be on today’s ballot in Duluth and surrounding communities that are part of the Duluth school district:

  • At Large Duluth School Board: Four of five candidates running for two at large seats will advance from a field that includes incumbent Harry Welty and challengers Josh Gorham, Bogdana “Dana” Krivogorsky, Loren Martell and Sally Trnka.

No primary election was necessary in the 2nd District Duluth City Council race, pitting incumbent Joel Sipress against Ryan Sistad.

Two Duluth School Board races also required no primary:

  • In the 1st District, where incumbent Rosie Loeffler-Kemp is running against Kurt Kuehn.
  • In the 4th District, where incumbent Art Johnston faces challenger Jill Lofald.

More information

Read more about the candidates on today’s ballot here, here and here.

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