City turnout low, but better than expected

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Michele Shoop takes primary results from Windom Township officials Tuesday night at the county auditor-treasurer's office. --Eric Johnson/

Despite falling on the opening day of the 2010 Mower County fair, Austin’s two primary races drew decent numbers of voters Tuesday night.

Overall, 2,355 people cast votes across the city’s six precincts or via absentee ballots, out of a possible 12,007 eligible voters. That equates to a 20 percent turnout, which falls at the higher end of estimates made before the election.

Election judge Marjorie Petersen, who was running the Austin Public Library polling area on Tuesday, said voters came in spurts, but she did notice a relatively high turnout for a primary. At the library, initial indications pointed to a 19 percent turnout in Ward 1, Precinct 1.

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“We thought that was pretty good,” Petersen said, noting that she got close to running out of her supply of 600 ballots.

The head election judge said she noticed a lot of new voters, which she said is always good during an election season. Petersen and other election judges also thought that the mayoral primary — won by incumbent Tom Stiehm — likely drew a lot of people to the polls.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said essentially the same thing when he visited Austin last week, predicting that turnout would be most heavily influenced by what “hot” local battles were being waged.

“We believe the main driver in a primary is not the day, but the race,” Ritchie said. “Competition matters.”

Still, Ritchie predicted that statewide turnout would be closer to 10 percent than 20 percent, largely due to a lack of big name races on the ballot but also possibly due in part to an earlier-than-usual primary date. Typically, Minnesota primaries are held in September, but the Legislature voted to move the 2010 version up to mid-summer, mainly in an effort to give Minnesotans overseas more time to file votes for the general election in November.

In Austin, the start of the fair and the new primary date didn’t stop turnout from exceeding expectations.

“They did not expect us to have this (kind of turnout),” Petersen said. “That’s what the word was.”