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Absentee ballot count soars in St. Louis County

Total number of accepted ballots so far betters previous primary high nearly five times over.

Sitting behind a plastic screen, election judges Annatte Foucault (left) and Sue Suchy check in voters, including Randy and Sue Bodenner, at the Good Fellowship Community Center in Duluth's Morgan Park neighborhood Tuesday morning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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Primary day was a record-shattering one in St. Louis County on Tuesday.

With 16,104 absentee ballots through Tuesday afternoon, St. Louis County was on its way to quintupling its previous best figure for accepted absentee ballots in a primary.

The most for a primary until now was 3,662 in 2018, with 1,500-2,000 being the average, Director of Elections Phil Chapman said.

A general election, such as the one coming Nov. 3, typically draws about 15,000 absentee voters in the county, Chapman said.

Duluth had 7,975 of the county's total, City Clerk Chelsea Helmer reported.


Voters have been encouraged to use absentee, or mail-in, balloting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At polling locations Tuesday, several Duluth residents told the News Tribune they considered voting absentee. A couple people who didn't cited time slipping away before they could get their ballot in the mail on time. One voter said he couldn't find clear information on how to vote by mail.

Duluth resident Rachel Kot votes at the Good Fellowship Community Center on Tuesday morning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"I would have totally done it with COVID-19 and everything, but I couldn't find out how," said Noah Anderson, 19, of West Duluth.

Others, like Patrice Larson, of West Duluth, felt that if they could stand in line at a grocery store, they shouldn't be worried about in-person voting.

"It was as safe as safe could be," Larson said of how she felt voting in person. "I don't worry about it. I want to live the rest of my life. I don't want to live the rest of my life in fear."

Wally Pfister, 75, of the Cody neighborhood in West Duluth, considered absentee voting, but everyday activities got in the way and before he knew it it was too late.


“The military has been absenteeing ballots since ‘father time’ and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Pfister said.

Pfister, who didn’t disclose who he voted for, said he doesn’t believe in party lines and that he voted for all women candidates.

“As long as I’ve been a voter, it’s been male-dominated. Look at all the boards and commissions, Congress, Senate.” Pfister said. “There are so many mothers out there who run the household and do a darn-good job. I feel as though they could do a good job for every citizen. That just pretty much summarizes where I’m at.”

As of noon, just over 100 people had voted at Pfister’s polling location, 6101 Cody St. Plexiglass shielded voters from election officials. Physical distancing markers lined the floors. Before leaving their voting table, voters were asked to flip a sheet of paper saying the space needed to be sanitized.

Absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted provided the ballots are in hand by Thursday. The St. Louis County canvassing board will meet Friday to validate the election totals.

Helmer told MinnPost earlier this week the city would run ballots received Wednesday and Thursday, reporting the results to the county each day. St. Louis County said it planned to update counts at the end of the day Thursday to go with election night totals.

The Secretary of State’s office said in a news release Friday it will update results throughout the week.

This story was updated at 6:53 p.m. Aug. 11 with additional quotes. It was originally posted at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11.


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