Strong Showing for County Commission Write-Ins; County Questions Soundly Defeated

It’s a mixed bag of election results this morning–lots to be excited about, and some that have me feeling a little glum.

I’m sorry to hear that after so many years of excellent DFL representation for Big Stone County on the state level, our redistricting, which coupled us to a more northerly, and more conservative population base, has resulted in a loss for DFL State Senate candidate (and Big Stone County resident) John Schultz.

The 12A State House DFL candidate Jay McNamar defeated his challenger, Scott Dutcher, and in our old district, Rep. Andy Falk and Senator Gary Kubly’s successor, Lyle Koenen both prevailed.

Some exciting news on the county front: both write-in challengers for commission seats had strong support in their respective districts. Mark Block, in District 3, garnered 37% of the vote, and Mike Hartman in District 5 got 35% of the vote.

Considering both candidates had only a month to educate voters, and that many of their potential constituents had already received (and many returned) their ballots by the time the write-in candidacies were announced, the fact that both of them still managed to persuade over 1/3 of voters to write in their names is an incredible feat.

Of course, in Ortonville Township, where the results of commissioners’ jurisdictional overstep on the Strata Quarry CUP are most keenly felt, Hartman beat the incumbent Berning 28-21.

Write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to win (though congratulations go to Sarina Otaibi in Granite Falls, who pulled off hers), and especially in a presidential election, where the electorate comes out in droves to vote for top-of-ticket candidates they’ve seen on TV while being more or less uninformed about local decisions.

It’s a sad truth that a lot of little ovals get filled in for what appear on the ballot to be uncontested races. Education of uninformed voters is made more difficult when district residents are reticent about putting up yard signs for fear of retribution should their candidate fail, a sentiment that has been expressed privately to me by more than one household.

But, the incredibly strong showing of the two write-in candidates indicates that an extremely high percentage of those paying attention in districts 3 and 5 made the effort to write-in for change.

Another bellwether of change in Big Stone County is the sound defeat of three questions on whether or not the positions of county auditor, recorder, and treasurer should be elected or appointed. While current commissioners encouraged the change to (their own) appointment for these positions, the public’s response was a resounding “no”–with nearly 80% of the electorate giving their thumbs down in order to keep the decision on these positions securely in the citizens’ hands.

It remains to be seen whether the big picture behind these election results will be reflected upon by the county commissioners as they serve their upcoming terms–or whether the simple fact of retaining seats will be seen as a mandate for more politics as usual.

Considering the strong turnout for write-ins and clear message that county auditor, treasurer, and recorder positions should remain a choice of the electorate, it would be wise for county government to carefully consider how it might strive to act more closely in accordance with the will of the people.

[Update: Some of the percentage calculations were way off in the initial post; corrections made to account for those errors.]

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