State Rep. Terry Morrow’s resignation from the House and the Democratic Party’s tardiness in scheduling its endorsing convention could result in well over $70,000 in unexpected costs to local governments. The Feb. 12 special election to fill Morrow’s vacant House District 19A seat and Tuesday’s special Democratic primary election have to be conducted under the same rules as a presidential election. Despite generating a tiny fraction of the voters seen on Nov. 6, the special elections use the same polling places and staffing levels as a presidential election. Blue Earth County Elections Director Patty OÕConnor said she and other elections officials suggested to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie during a recent visit that low-turnout special elections should have different rules. “It was like, “‘Why can’t we do these by mail? This is crazy,'” O’Connor said.
State law requires that a special election be conducted in the same places under the same rules as the previous general election. For instance, all three counties needed to have their elections offices open for five hours on Saturday — staffed by at least two workers — for people to vote absentee in Tuesday’s primary. So how many absentee voters showed up at the Nicollet County courthouse during those five hours?
“I think we were at five,” said Nicollet County Auditor Bridgette Kennedy.
Voting rates were higher than one per hour Tuesday, but not by a whole lot. After more than eight hours of voting, one upper North Mankato polling place had received 28 ballots. Another, in the seventh hour of voting, had 20.
North Mankato City Clerk Nancy Gehrke, predicting turnout of 5 percent or less for the primary, wondered before the election if costs could be cut but was told that election statutes don’t allow it.
“Could we consolidate our precincts? No,” Gehrke said. “Can we have less than four judges because we know there’s going to be so few people? No.”