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Heavy turnout for non-presidential year

Voters wait to feed their ballots into a counting machine at Lake Community Church in Alexandria Tuesday. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)1 / 2
Poll worker Bob Reynolds, right, hands a ballot to Monte Korkowski of Brandon township on Election Day. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)2 / 2

Having presidential candidates on a ballot draws substantially more people to the polls on an election day than does a non-presidential ballot. Tuesday’s election fit into the latter category, but for a variety of reasons, it was attracting a healthy voter turnout.

“It’s been much more than we get for a non-presidential year,” Brandon city clerk Deb Grommesh said just before 5 p.m., with three of the heavier voting hours still to come. “We’re not quite at 50 percent, and nobody is off work yet.”

Brandon City Hall was functioning as a shared polling place, with nearby tables attracting voters from Brandon township. There, head judge Adrian Ledermann said that roughly 60 percent of eligible voters had already turned up to exercise their civic responsibilities, with the vote count at 350 of a possible 550. That included 44 absentee ballots, which he said would amount to more than 10 percent of those voting this year.

“We usually have a pretty good turnout,” said Jeanine Henneman, who was supervising the election for Evansville township. Not that she hadn’t expected that to be the case. She said just two years ago, voter turnout was almost 100 percent.

“Overall, the community takes this responsibility very seriously and turns out.”

As for what was bringing so many people to the polls, it may have been an unusually full state ballot that included governor and both U.S. senator seats, along with a heated attorney general race and a U.S. House seat.

However, if you asked voters what motivated them to vote this year, local races tended to be equally important, if not more so.

For voters in Evansville and Brandon, a school board election for three seats had drawn a slate of 10 candidates. For those in the city of Evansville, three people were running for mayor and six were on the ballot for city council. Instead of having a shortage of candidates, there was an abundance.

The school board race was most on the mind of Matt Mogensen of Brandon. He has two young kids who aren’t in school yet.

“We’re looking basically for whatever’s best for our kids,” he said. “They are our future.”

Karen Murray of Brandon said she went to the polls to pull the lever for Republicans, but the school board race was also a big reason.

“That’s very important right now, especially with what happened last year,” Murray said, referencing a 2017 referendum to build a $38.8 million new school that overwhelming was rejected by voters in both Evansville and Brandon. “I’m hoping some things are going to happen.”

Kari Tomoson of Brandon agreed that the school board race was “definitely a motivation,” and she believes a new school building is needed.

“I don’t think our present school board was against that,” she said. “Let’s do what’s best for our kids.”

In Alexandria earlier in the afternoon, Brian Johnson, an election official for Precinct 1 of Ward 1, said that he thought it was probably busier than the presidential election two years ago.

Gayle Walz, Precinct 1 election judge for Ward 1 at Lake Community Church in Alexandria, described voting as “steady” as of 1 p.m.

“It ebbs and it flows,” she said. “I’m sure after people leave work, we’ll be seeing a lot more.”

Other precincts in the area also reported an overall good turnout, and that voters were in a good mood in spite of the blowing snow that fell for chunks of the day.

“We just have happy voters here,” said Brandon election judge Marilyn Kelly. Grommesh and Ledermann sensed a different atmosphere than from just two years ago.

“They are a little more positive,” he said. “A few people are glad that the ads are over.”

Not counting the primary, it was the first election in Brandon or Evansville to use poll pads, a tablet device, for electronic voter registration. They were being used across the state in 2018.

“That has made things easier,” Grommesh said, “and there’s less room for error.”

Grommesh and the poll workers alongside her had all been working election days in Brandon for at least two decades together. As consistent a presence as they have become, so too has Tomoson on the voting side of the equation. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I always vote,” she said when asked if there was a race that led her to the polls more than any other. “Because if you don’t vote, you can never complain.”

Lowell Anderson of the Echo Press contributed to this story.