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Published November 03 2010

Turnout steady in Cass, Clay counties

Favorable fall weather, a couple of hotly contested national and statewide races and some controversial ballot measures helped pull a steady stream of voters to the polls in Cass and Clay counties Tuesday.

Cass County set a record turnout for a mid-term election, with 47,613 ballots cast. County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said the previous high was 42,756 in 2002.

Montplaisir said that while turnout was higher than expected, it was “a whole lot less” than the 72,069 who voted in the 2008 presidential election The county has about 90,000 eligible voters, he said.

Still, he and other election officials were pleased with Tuesday’s turnout.

“It’s been steady,” said Jan Malakowsky, election inspector at the Horace Community Senior Center, where about 100 people voted in the first hour.

Olivet Lutheran Church in south Fargo tallied about 1,300 votes by 6:30 p.m., averaging more than 100 per hour.

The hard-fought House race in which incumbent U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy fell to state Rep. Rick Berg likely boosted turnout, Montplaisir said. Strong turnouts in previous mid-term elections also coincided with tight U.S. Senate and House races, he said.

“That seems to be the race that brings people out,” he said during a quick trip to Hickson to make sure the town didn’t run out of ballots.

Early voting, which accounted for nearly 29 percent of ballots cast in Cass County during the 2008 presidential election, again played a major role, with 10,920 people voting at three early voting sites last week. Voters also returned about 6,000 absentee ballots, Montplaisir said.

County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund a Red River diversion and other flood protection measures, but it was unclear how much that played into the turnout, given the poorly attended public meetings about the tax, Montplaisir said.

Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson said voter turnout appeared strong, and she speculated that one reason was likely the Moorhead School District referendum.

Minnesota State University Moorhead student senators spent Tuesday encouraging students to vote.

“We’re electing a new governor, and based on who gets elected, it could cause dramatic changes for college students all across Minnesota,” said Ashley Hoeck, the senate’s public relations chairwoman.

Douglas and Margaret Sillers voted at the Clay County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

The couple, 95 and 94 years old, respectively, said it went off without a hitch. With nearly 40 races and questions on the ballot, Doug Sillers said it took time to get through it, but he’s confident he got everything right.

“I went over it a couple times,” said Sillers, a former Minnesota legislator.

Forum reporters Amy Dalrymple and Dave Olson contributed to this article.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528