ST. PAUL — Incumbents succeeded in their bids to again run for their seats around the state Tuesday, Aug. 11, as results of Minnesota's primary elections came trickling in and head-to-head matchups for the general election came into clearer focus.

Although thousands of absentee ballots were still in transit to election officials, most statewide and Congressional district contests were called Tuesday night as precinct reporting painted a clear enough picture of who would carry the contests.

As the state put on its first election during the coronavirus pandemic, voters experienced a new reality at polling locations that were sparsely attended, socially distant and frequently sanitized. Hundreds of thousands skipped the in-person experience and instead opted to vote from home.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Republican Jason Lewis emerged from their respective primaries with little challenge and launched into their general election bids for the Senate seat. Meanwhile, in the hotly anticipated Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary in Minneapolis, newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux conceded to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar.

And in western Minnesota, 15-term U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson got the OK in the DFL primary to again seek his seat. And he got a formal challenger after former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach topped her competition in the 7th Congressional District GOP primary.

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In some state legislative contests, however, incumbents lost their primary bids to candidates endorsed by their political parties.

Voters who cast ballots in-person Tuesday reported short lines and ample measures to limit the possible transmission of COVID-19.

At the polls, masks or face coverings were required, social distancing was enforced and hand sanitizer and Plexiglas shields abounded. Unlike typical elections, voters could peel "I voted" stickers for themselves and took home pens they used to fill out their ballots.

Linda Saunders, a teacher at Willmar Senior High School, cast her ballot Tuesday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar. The 59-year-old said she would rather vote in-person than send in an absentee ballot because it's meaningful and she felt adequate measures were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"I am very encouraged to see all of the precautions being taken. When we go back to school, this will be our world. I think it's great," Saunders said. "If this means we can vote in-person and go to school this fall, I am more than happy following the guidelines."

Donna Rime places an "I Voted" sticker on her shirt after casting her ballot in the state's primary election Tuesday at the Ward 2, Precinct 1, polling site at St. Mary's Church in Willmar.

Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
Donna Rime places an "I Voted" sticker on her shirt after casting her ballot in the state's primary election Tuesday at the Ward 2, Precinct 1, polling site at St. Mary's Church in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Donna Rime, also of Willmar, said she opted for in-person voting because she felt safe because other voters and poll workers took measures to social distance and sanitize pens and voting booths.

"I'm as careful as I can be when it comes to coronavirus," said Rime, 88. "I felt comfortable at the polls because everyone was being careful."

Those who preferred not to don face coverings were allowed to vote curbside. A lawsuit filed last week aimed to eliminate the requirement but ultimately wasn't taken up in time. Voters who skipped masks at the polls were recorded and could face penalties for violating the executive order aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The state earlier this year approved funding to allow more voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse in the face of the pandemic. And the Secretary of State's Office waived the requirement for a witness signature to accommodate voters who might be self-quarantining.

Minnesota voters who cast their ballots absentee said the process was simple.

"While it initially looked like a daunting package, the instructions were clear," said Rita Chamblin, a first-time absentee voter from Turtle River Township in Beltrami County. "I was thrilled to find out recently that I could check online to see if my ballot was received, and it was. This was a very seamless process for me."

Leanne Jaskowiak, of Bemidji, said she also opted to vote absentee to avoid visiting the polls and it offered a chance to do additional candidate research.

"During this pandemic, it is a safe way to vote without putting myself at any risk," she said. "And I liked having the opportunity to check out a candidate’s website before I cast a ballot for them. I felt more informed than if I had just checked the box because they were on the ballot."

Forum News Service photojournalist Erica Dischino contributed to this report from Willmar, Minn.