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Primary election: Voter turnout high in Carlton County

Cloquet resident Amy Louhela listens to instructions before receiving her ballot at Cloquet City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Eighty-five people had voted in Ward 3 by 10:30 a.m. out of a total of 1,300 voters, according to election judge Mary Krohn. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com

Voters in Carlton County blew away the 2016 primary election in terms of turnout, with a total of 6,767 people casting votes Tuesday, Aug. 14, versus approximately 1,400 two years ago.

Most of the local races showed a clear leader in vote numbers, although the top two candidates in each local race will advance to the general election Nov. 6.

County Auditor Paul Gassert said he wasn't too surprised that turnout, which he estimated at 33 percent, was higher, because there were no local races on the primary ballot in 2016.

He attributed the higher turnout to the local races, with one county commissioner race going to primary and three races in the city of Cloquet.

"The last similar primary was 2014 and we were less than 20 percent turnout," Gassert said.

In Cloquet, incumbent Ward 3 City Councilor Roger Maki received more than half the votes for mayor with 1,337 votes (57 percent), followed by incumbent Mayor Dave Hallback with 697 votes (30 percent). The two face off in the general election.

In the Ward 3 race, Dakota Koski and Richard Colsen will advance. Koski got 159 votes (39 percent) to Colsen's 132 (32.5 percent).

With 947 votes (41 percent), Lara Wilkinson was the favorite in the special election to fill the Cloquet City Council At Large seat vacated when Adam Bailey moved out of the city limits, followed by longtime physician Les Riess with 648 votes (28 percent).

Barb Wyman, who was appointed by Hallback to fill Bailey's seat, is out of the race but will serve out her appointment until the end of the year.

The morning after the race, Maki said he had hoped to win the primary, but admitted he was surprised by his large margin of victory.

"I think the voters are sending a pretty clear message that they're not happy with the current mayor," Maki said. "Still, primaries are not always indicative of what happens in November, so I plan to keep advertising, meeting with different groups and doing some door-to-door stuff."

Hallback told the Pine Journal he was surprised by the election results, but also encouraged, noting that it's an honor to make it to the general election.

"If voters do their homework over the next 84 days, I'm sure the general election can and will have different results," Hallback said. "This race is not over."

In terms of strategy, both mayoral candidates said they want to run campaigns that focus on actions, not personality.

"I will continue to work hard and I won't run a smear campaign," Hallback said. "I plan to run on my own merits. I hope voters will recognize my passion and the hard work I've done."

Maki said he aims to take the high road and avoid personal attacks. That doesn't mean he won't talk about past actions taken by the mayor and other city councilors, however.

"Of course, I will talk about what's been done and the lack of process," he said, referring to the suspension of former Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek and the appointment of his replacement, Chief Jeff Palmer, without advertising the position internally or externally. Both issues sparked controversy in 2017.

Carlton County also had a few surprises in the statewide and federal primary races.

In the five-way DFL race for a U.S. Representative District 8 candidate, former TV newscaster Michelle Lee of Moose Lake won Carlton County with 1,944 votes (46 percent). The winner of that race, Joe Radinovich, took second in Carlton County with 1,697 votes (40 percent). Radinovich will face Republican candidate Pete Stauber in November for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. Stauber won handily in Carlton County with 94 percent of the votes to Harry Welty's 6 percent.

Carlton County also differed from the overall state results in its votes for the DFL governor candidate, with 48 percent voting for Lori Swanson and Rick Nolan, and only 25 percent voting for Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan, who will advance to the general election.

Reflecting the statewide Republican vote, Jeff Johnson and Donna Bergstrom won in the governor's race in Carlton County, defeating Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Fischbach.

Statewide DFL attorney general candidate winner Keith Ellison took a close second to Debra Hilstrom in Carlton County, with Hilstrom garnering 1437 votes (35.4 percent) to Ellison's 1380 votes (34 percent).

All 38 of the Carlton County precincts reported by 10 p.m., but there were some hiccups. It was the first time that city of Barnum residents had voted by mail, so Gassert said some people didn't realize they should mail their ballots back and ended up hand-delivering them Tuesday.

"And one woman called to ask if we could hold her ballot until tomorrow (Wednesday) because she was out of town," said LeeAnn Purcell, one of a small army of county employees working at the courthouse for the election until late into the night.

Gassert said more than 300 people voted at the polls and 375 people voted absentee this year versus fewer than 200 new voters and 132 absentee ballots in 2014.

Cloquet primary election results

Mayor

Roger Maki 1337

Dave Hallback 697

Trevor Berg 181

Andy Lee Angell 122

At Large City Councilor

Lara Wilkinson 947

Less Riess 648

Elizabeth "Lyz" Jaakola 408

Barb Wyman 307

Ward 3 City Councilor

Dakota Koski 159

Richard Colsen 132

Randy Flynn 115

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