Voters in Esko, elsewhere in Carlton County wait in long lines to cast their ballots
The county auditor's office received calls from some officials who were worried their precincts would run out of ballots.
About 100 people stood in line to vote at Thomson Town Hall in Esko the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Co-head election judge Leah Pykkonen said before Tuesday, 3,500 people in Esko were registered to vote. Absentee voters accounted for 1,400 of those ballots. As of 4 p.m., there were over 1,200 votes cast at the precinct.
Charlotte Hansmeyer, a first-time voter and senior at Esko High School, said she was made aware that the wait was an hour long because her mother was there earlier in the day, and she had the same wait time.
Pykkonen said the precinct had been consistently busy all day.
Pykkonen was working curbside voting, mostly reserved for those who were unable to physically stand in the line for a long period of time.
Merton "Chum" Juntunen was one of those voters. The 88-year-old Korean War veteran was surprised to see the long line, and initially stood in line to wait.
He talked to Pykkonen, who encouraged him to go back to his car and pull up to vote curbside. He said his wife of 63 years, Donna Mae, voted early on Monday at the Carlton County Courthouse. He said he should have listened to her and voted when she voted.
"We've been married 63 years, you think I'd learn to listen to her by now," he said.
While Nicole Lackas waited in line, her 3-year-old son, Jace, ran from landmark to landmark to see how fast he could do it.
"We've had lots of races and we've been making lots of friends while we wait in line," Lackas said.
Steve Krueger was one of those new friends. Krueger is a third-grade teacher at Esko schools and said it was nice to have the entertainment of Jace while he waited to vote. He was fine waiting in the line though.
"It shows that people care that they want to be involved. I think it's reflective of the nation," he said.
Carlton County Auditor Kathy Kortuem said her office had received 10,463 early votes — mail and absentee ballots as well as early in-person votes — as of Monday. The number of returned early ballots did not include ballots that arrived on Election Day.
The number of early ballots returned is more than half the 18,374 votes cast in Carlton County in 2016 when there were a little more than 20,000 registered voters in the county, according to data on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website. As of the Aug. 11 primary, there were 21,424 registered voters in Carlton County, Kortuem said.
There were still more than 1,500 mail ballots that had not yet been received at the auditor’s office, according to Kortuem.
Turnout was high at polling places elsewhere in the county, as well, with lines forming in Cloquet, in addition to Esko. Kortuem said her office received some calls early Tuesday from election judges concerned they could run out of ballots. The auditor’s office sent more ballots to ensure there were plenty at precincts around the county.