Minneapolis polling places draw thousands for primary

Election judges Elizabeth Stockbridge and Kristin Gross (right) help a voter who did not wish to be identified fill out her ballot curbside during the 2020 state primary at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in East Harriet. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

As of noon on Tuesday, an estimated 14,950 Minneapolis residents had voted in person in the 2020 state primary, according to election officials. Over 71,000 more had already submitted mail-in ballots.

The gymnasium of the Whittier Park rec center was the polling place for two precincts this year, rather than one, as 50 polling places citywide were changed to improve social distancing.

“I was too lazy to figure out how to vote by mail,” said Caitlin Treanor, who noted that coming to a polling place during a pandemic felt safer than she expected. “It was pretty empty, and there was hand sanitizer at the beginning and the end. They had a pen deposit and a pen pickup; I’m assuming they cleaned them in between.”

Ivan Nuñez said deciding to vote in person this year was an “emotional-personal choice.”

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 20-plus years, and I’ve always voted in person,” he said. “I’m an immigrant [from Venezuela], and it has a lot of symbology to be able to do it that way. It’s balancing feeling good and feeling healthy — I’ve got my Purell in my pocket.

Nuñez, a graphic designer for Slalom Consulting, said he struggled in the ballot box for 10 minutes over whether to vote for DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar or challenger Anton Melton-Meaux in the competitive 5th District primary.

Nuñez said that he (like Omar) opposes U.S. intervention in Venezuela but that he hasn’t received clarity about whether Omar opposes the regime of autocratic President Nicolás Maduro. Nuñez said he wrote to her campaign but found the answers he received somewhat “political” and confusing.

Ultimately he decided his support for Omar’s agenda outweighed his concerns.

“She supports principles related to health care, LGBTQ rights and housing,” he said. “I wanted to stay with someone I know well, while wanting her to do better.”

Najma Mohamoud said she supported Melton-Meaux because she thought he would better serve the Somali community.

“I don’t choose any color or race, I just choose who I think will help us,” she said. “I listen to how he speaks, and I like it.”

Logan Tibbits, a worker at a financial services firm, said he voted for Republican Lacy Johnson because he likes that he’s a business owner. He thinks Omar is too much of a celebrity and the Democratic Party’s ideas, like free tuition, are getting too far left.

“A lot of it comes down to socialism,” he said. “I like how the Republican Party is more about America First.”

Haley Paige said one of the reasons she voted for Omar was because the country needs more women of color in office. “Donald Trump likes to say she’s spending too much time being a celebrity, but she’s only in the public eye as much as she is because she is signaled out for being a woman of color and people are uncomfortable with the fact that she covers up her head,” she said.

Paige, who’s returning to her part-time job as a stripper at Downtown Cabaret this week because her $600 federal unemployment benefit is expiring, said she lives “in a weird situation where I hang out with the 1% when I’m at work, and based on my interactions with a class that I would have no access to without my job, it makes me dig my feet in more that we need things to change.”

She said she thinks Omar shares her view that the government should work for the people, not big corporations.

“I’m only a sex worker because I would never be able to pay my bills without it,” she said. “We demonize poor people even though they’re the people who are the backbone of the country.”

At Bethlehem Lutheran Church, East Harriet neighborhood resident Jay Botten was the only voter inside the polling place when he voted at 12:45 p.m.

The city relocated Botten’s polling place to the church from Walker Methodist Health Center, a nursing home at 37th & Bryant.

Botten voted “against Ilhan Omar” and for Melton-Meaux, who he thinks has the best shot at defeating her. “I don’t know that he’ll be a better congressperson, but really we have to have a real representative who’s actually legislating and interested in doing things for the district besides talking,” he said.

Botten also voted for incumbent Kim Ellison in a five-way primary for an at-large School Board seat. Ellison has been on the board since 2012 and is seeking her third elected term.

“I voted for the incumbent name that I recognized, basically believing that our schools are just fine, Botten said.

John Lundquist, who emerged from the polling place about 10 minutes later, said he felt safe inside the church and that it made sense to switch the polling place.

He said he felt more confident that his vote would be counted in person than by mail.

Lundquist voted for Omar, who he said has made missteps but is “a good person at her core.”

“I trust that she’s going to learn how to do the job properly,” he said.

He also said he was turned off by Melton-Meaux’s campaign and its negativity.

Polling places in Minneapolis close at 8 p.m. tonight, and voters in line by then will still get to cast their ballots. More information about voting in the city is at vote.minneapolismn.gov. Unofficial primary results will not be available until Thursday night or Friday morning.