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Vote Tuesday for special election primary

STORY UPDATED FROM PRINT VERSION: The primary election for the Minnesota District 11 Senate seat is Tuesday, and many in Carlton County didn't get their mail-in ballots until Friday or Saturday.

That's a problem, because there's no mail service Monday because of the MLK holiday.

Carlton County Auditor Paul Gassert recommends people who didn't already mail their ballots bring them directly to the auditor's office at the Carlton County Courthouse today by 5 p.m. Monday (yes, they're open for absentee and mail-in ballots) or Tuesday before 8 p.m. to make sure your vote will be counted. Ballots received in the mail after Tuesday will not be counted in the election, in accordance with state law, Gassert said.

As of Monday afternoon, he said his office had more than 150 ballots -- the majority of those being mail-in ballots that people brought in or absentee voting at the courthouse.

Although there is only one contested race in the primary - between Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee (who was endorsed in Saturday's DFL convention after only one round of voting) - the primary ballot lists four different parties on two sides. In addition to the two DFL candidates, Jason Rarick is listed for the Republican Party; John "Sparky" Birrenbach is listed for the Legal Marijuana Now party; and there is no listed candidate for the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party.

"People can vote for only one of the four parties," explained Carlton County Auditor Paul Gassert. "If they vote for more than one candidate, they will get credit for voting but the votes won't count."

He added that voters can ask for another ballot if they're at the polls or at the courthouse and realize they made a mistake.

The DFL will hold an endorsement convention at 10 a.m. Saturday at Barnum High School, with a meet and greet starting at 9 a.m. Regardless of whether Lee or Lourey is endorsed, the primary ballot will still include both candidates.

Election update

Gassert took a moment Tuesday to catch his breath in the midst of the election whirlwind, reporting that 1,500 mail ballots went out Monday, with the balance of roughly 1,000 mailed Tuesday. Once they are received, voters should waste no time returning them to ensure they make their way back to the auditor's office by Tuesday, Jan. 22, because Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and there is no mail delivery.

The auditor's office, on the second floor of the Carlton County Courthouse at 301 Walnut Ave. in Carlton (entrance at the side door) will have additional hours for absentee voters from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and again on Monday - even though the courthouse will be closed for MLK Day - from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Gassert explained that voters can still call and request an absentee ballot, or go online and fill out an electronic application to get a mailed ballot, but he worries about turnaround time.

"Your best bet for voting absentee is to come to the courthouse," he said. "The primary election is coming up fast.

"Then we're going to face the same thing (quick turnaround) in two weeks again with the general election on Feb. 5."

All the polling places for the primary and the special election will be the same as the last general election, Gassert said.

Contact the County Auditor's office at 218-384-9127 with any election-related questions.

Meet the candidates


Two people will face off in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party primary on Jan. 22:

Michelle Lee

Moose Lake resident Michelle Lee has also announced her candidacy. After retiring from her longtime job as KBJR-TV anchor, Lee ran for Congress in the Eighth Congressional District in the 2018 primary election, but was defeated by Joe Radinovich. Lee did, however, win the DFL primary in Carlton County.

In announcing her intention to represent District 11 residents in the Minnesota Senate, Lee said her congressional campaign, along with her 30-year career as a broadcast journalist and longtime resident of the area, had provided her with the "background and knowledge needed to understand and promote the needs and desires of the residents of this district in the Minnesota Senate."

"Although this campaign will be short, it will allow time to outline the issues I believe are important to all residents within the district," she continued. "Access to affordable health care will be my top priority. I believe it is only a matter of time before single-payer health care becomes a reality in America. In the meantime, I will work with the Walz administration to expand affordable health care to all Minnesotans."

Stu Lourey

Lourey's son, Stu Lourey, was the first to announce his candidacy for the District 11 seat - the same seat Becky Lourey (Tony's mom and Stu's grandmother) held 1997-2006.

Stu Lourey worked as an aide in the Senate district for former U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, where he worked to push legislation to help people living in rural areas access health care, provide students with school-based mental health support, and improve prevention, treatment and recovery for the opioid epidemic as well as health care, education, infrastructure, and jobs.

"I'll focus on the issues that are weighing most heavily on families here in the district. Working on policy in this area - and having conversations with doctors, tribal leaders, teachers, and others - I most often heard about the need to make health care more affordable, the importance of strong schools, and ways we can build a strong economy."

On his family's history of public service, Lourey says, "I'm proud of my family's commitment to this community and public service. Those are the values I grew up with."


Rarick is the only Republican candidate:

Jason Rarick

State Rep. Jason Rarick represents House District 11B, a seat he's held since 2015. District 11B includes parts of Pine and Kanabec Counties.

Rarick is a Pine City native, union electrician and owner/operator of Rarick Electric.

Rarick has been an active community member as a religious education instructor, a youth athletics coach and as a school board member. He currently resides on the farm settled by his great-grandfather in southern Pine County.

Rarick serves on the Labor (Lead) Committee, and Energy and Climate Finance & Policy, Environment and Natural Resources Finance, and Jobs and Economic Development Finance Divisions committees in the Minnesota House. While in the House, Rarick has focused on broadband, transportation, and construction trade and contractor issues and was the chief author of the bills for term limits and legalizing aerial fireworks.

"There's a lot at stake at the Capitol right now so it's important our Senate district has a strong voice in St. Paul," said Rarick. "I am excited to take the experience I've gained over four years in the House of Representatives and put it to work for the people of Pine, Kanabec, Carlton and St. Louis Counties."

Legal Marijuana Now

Birrenbach is the only candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now party.

John "Sparky" Birrenbach

John Birrenbach is a U.S. military veteran and served as a U.S. Navy corpsman 1979-1982. Birrenbach said he feels political activism is one of the most important ways he can support his oath to the Constitution of the United States and has been active in local and statewide politics for decades.

Sparky has been a small-business owner for most of his adult life. According to his statement of candidacy on Facebook, he supports improving rural access to internet, universal health care, civil rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation, race, creed or religion. He believes in a balanced budget and that the rich should pay proportionately more taxes than the poor.

"I am a sensible voice for the people of the 11th District of Minnesota," he said. "It's time for someone new from outside the "mainstream" political parties. I pledge to be an independent voice for the people of the district and Minnesota whose vote is not owned by a political party or corporation."

Birrenbach and the Legal Marijuana Now party advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana use.

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