Minnesota voters turned out in large numbers Tuesday, building on the advance balloting totals, and posting the most votes for a primary in the state since 1982.
Secretary of State Steve Simon tweeted that 902,119 Minnesotans voted, a 22.7 percent overall turnout, the highest percentage for a primary since 1994.
The primary election helped narrow the field of DFL and Republican candidates for the state’s top political positions, including governor, both U.S. Senate seats, all eight Congressional districts, state attorney general and several seats in the state House.
Hope Kennedy, 82, said she cast her ballot for GOP governor candidate Jeff Johnson because she’s “had enough” of Dayton.
“We need a change,” she said. “I think Jeff Johnson can probably be it.”
Merchandising planner Troy Parish, 37, voted at the same location — but for DFL candidates. He picked state Rep. Erin Murphy for governor and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison for state attorney general, largely because of those candidates’ positions on guns.
“I don’t really personally like Keith Ellison, but none of the other candidates really take a stance on assault weapons bans,” he said.
At Burnsville’s Sioux Trail Elementary, Republican voters said they were casting their votes for the GOP candidate they saw as the most conservative — though they weren’t in agreement on if it was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty or Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner, who best fit that description.
Brian Johnson, 55, who works in health care finance, said he liked Pawlenty as a governor the first time around, and was encouraged by his campaign messaging about reigning in fraud and waste in taxpayer-financed programs.
“As a governor in a liberal state he’s going to be able to balance the budget and he’s going to curb fraud and abuse,” he said.
But Joe Taylor, a 33-year-old software engineer, said he had the opposite feeling about Pawlenty. He voted for Johnson, who he sees as the more conservative candidate, especially on issues related to health care.
“T. Paw was not my guy last time,” he said.
Members of the Dokken family drove to the polls at Minnetonka United Methodist Church together split on which gubernatorial candidate to support. When they left the polls, 48-year-old Dan Dokken said he voted for Murphy, while his wife Kris and 20-year-old son Kyle chose U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.
“I think our main goal is to make sure Pawlenty doesn’t get in there,” Dan Dokken, a technology project manager, said.
In Apple Valley, a handful of DFL voters leaving the polling place at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church all said they were backing Walz.
Bill Bond, 72, a retired teacher, said he was looking for a candidate who didn’t resort to negative advertising and who had the ability to unite people. He said he liked Walz’s background in public service and was hopeful other DFL voters around the state would be making a similar decision.
“There’s a lot of talk about the urban-rural divide, but I’m confident,” he said.
In St. Paul, Katharina Schirg, 41, came to vote at Holy Spirit Catholic Church with her five-year-old daughter, Helene, who was dressed for the occasion in a patriotic red, white and blue dress. In the DFL governor’s race, she cast her ballot for Murphy, whom she’d campaigned for more than a year. She said she was particularly impressed with Murphy’s experience as both a health care provider and a legislator.
“From the beginning I thought: ‘This is a woman who knows what she’s talking about,”” Schirg said.
Pat and Becky Steeber, a retired couple from St. Paul, voted for Walz because they think he has the best chance at being elected governor in November.
“My feminist friends would kill me for not voting for Erin Murphy,” Becky Steeber said. “I think she’s awesome, but I just don’t think she’d do it.”
Jake Meyer, 25, a self-proclaimed young progressive from St. Paul, thought differently. He voted for Murphy, and voted for Matt Pelikan in the attorney general’s race because he’s excited about the prospect of electing the first gay man to that position in Minnesota.
Meyer said recent allegations of domestic abuse against another DFL candidate for attorney general, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, complicated his decision.
“I don’t know what to think about (the allegations), but I feel like his position is really untenable now,” he said.
At Grace Lutheran Church near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, many of the first voters Tuesday were young and backing Murphy in the governor’s race and state Rep. Ilhan Omar or state Sen. Patrica Torres Ray in the five-way DFL primary for the Congressional seat currently held by Ellison.
Tegan Lecheler, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota Student, said she voted for Murphy, Omar and Pelikan.
“I have met both Erin and Ilhan,” she said. “I believe they will work with people of all identities in their effort to make Minnesota a better place for everyone.”
Voting in downtown Minneapolis, Delia Bujold, 80, said she sees the primary election as a chance to correct an imbalance between Congress and President Donald Trump. She cast her ballot for Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a DFLer in the running for the Fifth Congressional District seat. Bujold, a retired therapist, said she appreciated Anderson Kelliher’s experience, which included time as speaker of the Minnesota House.
“The issues [she prioritized] and her experience in the state Legislature told me she was coming with a readiness that the other candidates didn’t have, even if they had supported issues I believe in,” Bujold said.
Graham Monteith, a 33-year-old software engineer who also voted in downtown Minneapolis, said while he doesn’t expect his vote to flip any seats locally, it was important to look for Democrats willing to stand up against the federal government. He voted for Keith Ellison somewhat reluctantly, amid accusations Ellison abused his ex-girlfriend. Monteith believes Ellison would challenge President Donald Trump on executive orders like his immigration ban.
“The commitment to fight against those is important,” he said.
Sharon Mallery, 64, said candidates like Ilhan Omar, a candidate for the Fifth Congressional District, gave her hope to fight back against people like President Donald Trump.
“I saw new blood,” she said. “I saw more people who have heart for a fight. And that’s what we need — someone to fight for us.”
Several voters said their opposition to Trump helped drive their votes. But others said they were focused on the best candidates for specific jobs — not forcing anyone out.
Voting in Woodbury, Jack Lawler, 18, said even though he voted for Jeff Johnson and identifies as a conservative, he’s not married to his party.
“It’s not really about beating the other side,” he said. “It’s about getting the best person in office. If that best person is a Democrat, I’ll vote for that person.”
Tuesday’s election also included a number of nonpartisan races, depending on voters’ locations. In Burnsville, city council candidate Vince Workman turned up early to cast his ballot — and hoped all the interest in the major races on the ballot were going to translate into more votes in his race. He said the high early voting numbers, surpassing even those two years ago in a high-interest presidential election year, were a good sign.
“It just goes to prove that the state elections get people off their couch just as much,” he said.
Star Tribune staff writers Chris Bowling, Katie Galioto and Gulam Jeelani contributed to this report.
Erin Golden • 612-673-4790