Election Day in Northland saw Biden signs, to Trump touters, to epic temps

News Tribune reporters scattered through the region Tuesday to see what veteran voters, first-time judges and waving signs had to say. Then they took to Twitter.

Willie Wilson, of Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood, voted for the first time Tuesday at age 36. He wrote some of the candidates' names he planned to vote for on his hand. (Andee Erickson /

In the waning hours of Election Day, multimedia reporter Samantha Erkkila found a crowd in Esko. There was more than an hour wait to vote at Thomson Town Hall — the community’s lone polling place.

The co-head election judges offered numbers: there were 3,500 registered voters before Nov. 3, and 1,400 people voted absentee.

Was this the state’s highest turnout? Erkkila wondered on Twitter.

She hung around a bit and caught Merton “Chum” Juntunen, 88, who with less than four hours remaining, was the 1,115th voter at the town hall.

“The Korean War vet voted curbside to avoid the line. Smart man,” she posted to Twitter.


News Tribune reporters scattered through the region on Tuesday — church cafeterias, street corners and pedestrian bridges — to cover the voices of first-time voters, longtime judges and people compelled to shake a sign. Here are the sights, voices and observations found during a day at the polls.


At the polling places

While the majority of Minnesotans opted for early voting, many community centers opened to find a line had formed — which isn’t necessarily common, according to one seasoned voter in the Morgan Park neighborhood.

“I’ve never seen a line here at 7,” Brian Marshall told photographer Steve Kuchera, who also found that 130 ballots had been cast at Asbury Church shortly after 8 a.m.

Ken Stanley, an election official since 2008 who was stationed at Holy Family Catholic Church, said he, too, had never seen such a busy start: 40 people in line when the doors opened and 300 Lincoln Park voters by 10:20 a.m.

It was a similar scene at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior, where people began gathering at 6 a.m.

At Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cloquet, election judge Peggy Anderson found the high traffic to be a nice surprise.


She had worried she would be bored — but the line was out the door when the polls opened, she said.


As the day went on, election judges reported a steady flow and a mostly hiccup-free scene. The most common issue: rerouting voters who had stopped at the wrong polling place, according to Chuck Forseth, a judge at City Center West.

Pandemic precautions were in effect, including taped X's marked at a social distance, multiple hand-sanitizer dispensers, in some cases shields between voters and judges, and a place to put used pens.

Edward Roper, who was in his late 40s, was just glad the threat of COVID-19 didn’t wipe out in-person voting.

“I’m just glad to be able to hands-on vote,” he said in the parking lot of Our Savior’s Church in West Duluth.

COVID-19 did knock out an Election Day tradition reporter John Myers was looking forward to: cookies at Duluth's Vineyard Church.


First-time voters

An election judge at Peace United Church of Christ told reporter Melinda Lavine that about 10% of the voters at her polling place were first-timers.

Among the newbies: Willie Wilson, 36, who wrote the name of his candidates on his hand: U.S. Senator Tina Smith, Rachel C. Sullivan for Sixth District Court and Kelly Durick Eder for School Board. A neighbor had convinced him on the night before the election to vote.

“Did you vote? Did you feel good?” Wilson reportedly asked a passing stranger at Holy Family Catholic Church.

Notably absent from his list: a presidential pick.

“I don’t trust either,” he said.


Lisa Tollefson, 55, also picked the 2020 election to be her first as a voter — she had never been compelled to do so in the past.


“We need change,” she said.

DNT reporter Brady Slater found a red theme in Virginia, Minnesota, he said on Twitter. He talked to six voters who were all Republicans. Per the results, this area leaned blue. But for a stretch of time, it was voters like Eric Sikora.

“I feel like China needs to be held responsible (for COVID-19),” Sikora, 25, told Slater. “President Trump is doing that.”


Among the new voters were students from the University of Minnesota Duluth, including Peyton Haug, 18, who said she was voting out of fear.

“I’m so scared, especially as a college student,” she told Lavine. “We’re racking in copious amounts of debt.”

This wasn’t Marty Swansen’s first time, but it was his first time voting in this century. Swansen, who planned to vote for President Trump, said the last time he voted, he picked Hubert H. Humphrey.


“They’re all the same,” he said.


A word from the poll workers

This past summer, there had been concerns that there wouldn’t be enough election judges to work at neighborhood polling places, a job that has typically been held by older people who are also more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Teresa Backus, in Cloquet, said she was drawn to the role because of that projected shortage. A few hours into the job, which included sanitizing areas, she was into it.

“I’m enjoying it so far,” she said. “You don’t understand how much goes into an election until you’re a judge.”

Darren Mozenter, 50, recently moved from the San Francisco area to Duluth. He signed up to work at a polling place because he is “partially employed.”

“I saw the call, and it seemed like something I could actually do now,” he said from the doorway of Our Savior’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.


Bart Braaten, Patrick McConnell and Steven Hampton were all serving as first-time election judges at Lakeside Presbyterian Church. Hampton was drawn to help out in a way that wasn’t partisan, he told reporter Adelle Whitefoot.

On the other end of the spectrum was veteran election official Patty Timo, 77, who was at the Lincoln Park Senior Center. She has been doing this for 20 years, she said.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” she told the News Tribune. “I think more people should, especially the younger ones.”


Voters' voices

As the election neared, the corner of Central Entrance/Rice Lake Road and Mesaba Avenue became a popular stop for sign-wavers — for both blue and red. This continued through Election Day.

On one side, with flags for both "Blue Lives Matter" and "Trump 2020," was Terry Watczak, 61. He said he was out there for his son — a police officer.

“We need security in cities, and we need protection,” he said. “If we don’t have that, it’ll be like the wild, wild West.”

On the other side of the street: a group that include Kate Horvath and Jason Amundsen. The former described herself as feeling “buoyant optimism and hope." The latter, self-described as a “radical moderate,” said: “Until we have good government and good use of tax dollars, Biden has got my vote all the way.”


Slater also found what he called “dueling rallies” in downtown Grand Rapids. One one side of the street, Carolyn McBride, 77, claimed that 90% of the drivers were honking for the Trump supporters. Across the street, Cyndy Martin, 60, said: “They think they won the war, but we won it.”

Denise Carlson, 57, was thinking of her son when she listed what issues matter to her: civil rights, homelessness, reigning in the power of police officers.

“People have to have compassion,” she said. “I’m not perfect, but I have compassion.”

Tyler and Karin McCoy were also thinking of their child who is autistic, when they both voted straight Democrat, they said.

“We’ll stand with the BLM movement just as much as we’ll stand with law enforcement,” Karin McCoy, 39, said.

For Erica Allen, 30, voting on Tuesday was part of a personal-growth story. It was her second time at the polls, and she said she was thinking about the first-timers on her way to vote.

“It’s just amazing that everyone’s opinions and voice matters,” she said. “I was very excited to vote again this year. We’re part of a union, and we’re all counted.”

Hailey Ewald's guy wasn't a contender, so the self-described libertarian opted for Biden, whom she called an ally for people of color and women.

Randy Holder, 59, is a Navy veteran who carried a "Vets for Trump" sign.

"If Donald Trump gets back in, he'll work on infrastructure, he'll work on the black community, he'll work on unifying everyone," he said. "He'll bring God back into our lives."

Among the faceless voices: The pedestrian bridge near West Michigan Street that crosses I-35 always has some sort of Election Day message. On Tuesday: "Matter is the Minimum."



One of the great Election Day curiosities: the unseasonably warm weather. The 69-degree Duluth day was an Election Day record, according to the National Weather Service.

The next warmest was in 2008, when Duluth hit 67 degrees. In 1936, there was a high of 25 degrees and a low of 9 degrees.


Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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