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Voting under one roof

Voters in Mower County found themselves picking their favorite U.S. Senate candidates on Tuesday during Minnesota’s Primary Election. Austin voters also found themselves narrowing the field of Austin mayoral candidates from three to two.

Voters like Pat and Jim Parlin were pleased with the selection of mayoral candidates.

“I think they’re a good group,” Pat said.

“I think they’ve got a good list of candidates for the mayor position,” Jim said.

But Tuesday also marked the first election since the coronavirus pandemic became an issue in Mower County. In response to the pandemic, the Legislature earlier this year removed schools from its list of eligible polling locations, thus depriving the City of its regular locations of Austin High School, Southgate Elementary School, Banfield Elementary School and Ellis Middle School.

To accommodate state standards, City Clerk Ann Kasel arranged to have all of Austin’s precincts vote at one location: the Holiday Inn Conference Center. The location, which provided adequate space for social distancing, was approved by the Austin City Council in May.

“It’s been really good,” Kasel said of the change. “We’re just doing the same thing we always do on a larger scale, but with the COVID accommodations.”

Aside from social distancing, voters had to wear masks and sanitize their hands upon entry. Election judges were stationed behind plexiglass barriers and each voting station was sanitized after every use. Voters were given the option of keeping the pens they used to vote or place them in a bin once they were finished.

Kasel said voter turnout was fairly steady, but not overly busy because of the high absentee turnout.

“(Voters have) had a really good reaction to it,” she said of the new set-up. “They’ve liked the format.”

The Parlins said they liked the format.

“I thought it was a good idea to come to the same place,” Pat said.

“It’s probably a little less confusing,” Jim added. “Everybody knows where they’ve got to go and it’s a big enough area you can spread out in.”

“So far, it’s been very well organized,” said Election Judge Kelsey Ritchie. “Ann (Kasel) at the City is wonderful; to have everything set up behind the plexiglass. We’ve used the iPads before; we’re familiar with them and it’s an easy check-in process. We have more than enough volunteers. It’s been pretty smooth all day.”

“Even if it’s because of COVID or not, I really like this because it’s centralized and it’s easier for the people that are coming in,” said Election Judge Eileen Chao. “Having it all set-up for COVID, this is well thought out, very organized. It gives a lot of confidence to people that come in that they’re being protected and it’s very efficient.”

Ritchie and Chao both said they planned to come back in November.

“It’s exciting,” Ritchie said. “I like doing it and knowing I’m part of democracy.”

“And the fact that there’s no voter fraud because I’m here,” she added with a laugh.

Voters interested in voting absentee in November were given the option to pick up absentee ballot applications on Tuesday. Kasel said the City offered the applications as it anticipates a larger crowd for the General Election.

While the Parlins said they may vote absentee in November, it was not because of the new format.

“I’d feel comfortable to come back here and vote again too,” Pat said.