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Record numbers of absentee ballots make for hectic local vote tally
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It was all hands on deck at Nicollet County as the election office prepared to process a record number of absentee ballots. A total of 11,290 ballots, nearly 60% of votes in the county, came through Nicollet’s election offices, requiring the county hire new staff and utilize new space.

“We’re not set up to be one polling place for 20,000 voters,” said Nicollet County Election Administrator Jaci Kopet. “So we took over the county board room and our in-person polling place. We hired extra staff to assist in the backroom area and also helping voters who were voting in-person and even using other county staff from other departments.”

The influx of absentee votes to Nicollet County was about five times the 2,600 mail-in ballots the county received in 2016 and handling a majority of the votes was a first for the election office. In 2016, 85% of the ballots were cast at polling places. Nicollet County hasn’t ever needed outside help to count ballots, but this election, the office hired six extra staff members to count the absentee ballots.

It was a similar story at Le Sueur County, which received more than 7,000 absentee ballots this year, making up around 40% of the vote total. It’s a substantial increase from the ballots received by the county in 2016 and 2018. In 2016, Le Sueur County received 1,772 absentee ballots and 3,619 in 2018.

“Just the volume, the number of voters and the number of absentees — that was all up compared to previous years,” said Le Sueur County Election Administrator Carol Blaschko. “So there was more work as far as the quantity that we had to do than in the past. It took us longer to do that part of it this year than in the normal election.”

“I’ve been here 41 years,” she added. “I’ve never seen it as big as this year.”

Both counties were also receiving some ballots in the days after the election, which are eligible to be counted, pending court decisions in the state.

Counties were at their busiest in the lead up to the election. While they began accepting absentee ballots since Sept. 16, staff had to set aside ballots in a secure area until two weeks before the election. Then those last 14 days, election officials had the task of reviewing ballots, duplicating them if damaged or unreadable by the tabulator and inserting them into the ballot counter. The volume of absentee votes made the work take much longer than usual.

“There were so many moving parts in this election, there was never a dull moment from Sept. 16 on,” said Kopert.

Election night itself was smoother in comparison, though Le Sueur County did not report full results until after midnight. While precinct ballots were being uploaded, the county had to wait to report the results until all absentee ballots went through and rosters were checked to ensure people that voted absentee did not vote at the polls. Typically this would be finished during the day, but Blaschko said some ballots arrived later in the day and people from mail-in ballot districts voting at the courthouse took staff time away from counting.

For Nicollet County, the election night tabulation was fairly normal. Since there was an influx of absentee ballots, there were less people voting at the polls and the ballots did not take up as much time to process as the 14 days counting mail-ins.

“Election day went off without a hitch,” said Kopert. “We were prepared for many situations if anything arised, A lot of hard work and planning before made for a really good election day.”

Le Sueur United Fund to kick off virtual fundraiser for community donations
Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

John DePree (left) Director of human resources at Le Sueur Incorporated presents a donation check to Edrie Barton (right) President of United Fund of Le Sueur in front of the Le Sueur Food Shelf, a beneficiary of the Untied Fund. (Photo courtesy of Le Sueur United Fund)

After hitting it’s 2020 fundraising goal, the Le Sueur United Fund is looking to bring more dollars to local schools, community organizations and nonprofits for the 2021 season.

The Le Sueur United Fund will be holding its annual fundraising kickoff event on Nov. 19, but this year it’s going virtual. Starting at 9 a.m, the United Fund will begin streaming the fundraiser to community live from its Facebook page, which is set to feature a contest, local businesses and video testimonials until 8 p.m. In the past, the United Fund has hosted evening gatherings for fundraisers, so an all-day event is a new experience.

“It’s going to be a different type of day for us,” said United Fund President Edrie Barton. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I am looking forward to it.”

While the kickoff is live, members of the community will be able to call in, and their donations may even help the United Fund win a GiveMN contest. For every donation the United Fund receives, the organization’s name will be entered into a random drawing with the chance to win a golden ticket worth $500. GiveMN is drawing winners every 15 minutes on Nov. 19 and registered organizations like the United Fund are eligible to win one or more tickets.

Barton was happy to announce that several local businesses will be making pledges to the United Fund during the kickoff, including some first-time donors. Donating businesses will be mentioned in a presentation at the virtual event.

United Fund will also be releasing a series of testimonials from community members on the benefits of donating to the charity.

“I think there are going to be a lot more people participating in this event than in the past, so that’s exciting,” said Barton.

For every dollar sent to the United Fund, 86 cents goes directly to local organizations in the community. The United Fund has used its resources to support cultural events and learning opportunities for students, healthy food options at the Le Sueur Food Shelf, the Committee Against Domestic Abuse (CADA), nutrition for children K-8 via the Le Sueur-Henderson Backpack Program and equipment for community events like Giant Days. Most recently, the United Fund helped purchase a technology cart for St. Anne’s Elementary and playground equipment for Hilltop Elementary.

Several community organizations, like the Le Sueur Food Shelf and Giant Celebration, are annual beneficiaries of the United Fund, while others submit grant applications. If local nonprofits and agencies require immediate financial assistance due to unforeseen needs, the United Fund keeps a Special Community Projects Fund that can disburse grants of up to $500 within 60 days.

“Our goal is always to unite the community to fund the needs of the community,” said Barton. “We are encouraging local businesses to support us as well as citizens..The intent of the United Fund always has been to gather the funds together and have a better impact on the community than we can do separately. A little bit goes a long way when we can put the funds together.”

The Le Sueur United Fund is looking to reach a fundraising goal of $25,000 for 2021, matching the $25,000 the organization received this year. A recent undisclosed donation from Le Sueur Incorporated allowed the charity to reach their fundraising goal.

“More than ever, community service organizations such as United Fund, are strategically crucial to the wellbeing of small towns,” said John DePree, Director of Human Resources at Le Sueur Incorporated. “This community spirit of enthusiastic volunteerism reflects the kindness and neighborliness that make living in our river valley so wonderful. Le Sueur Incorporated is privileged to strategically partner with United Fund to meet local needs through local organizations.”

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}“During this time of global pandemic, our focus continues to be on funding projects {/span}which meet the great needs within our community,” said Barton. “Le Sueur Incorporated generously supported our mission to strengthen our community and provide critical assistance to those in need during these unprecedented times. I am heartened by the generous support from LSI and all our donors. We are all blessed to live in a community where even during the toughest of times we band together to ensure the wellbeing of our neighbors.”

Councilor Kirby elected Le Sueur mayor; Loose, Swanberg, Schlueter win council seats
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The city of Le Sueur has elected a new mayor — incumbent City Councilor Shawn Kirby. In a two-man race against personal care advocate David Scheiber, Kirby claimed 1,500 votes, 79% of ballots cast, while Scheiber walked away with 20% of the ballots and 380 votes.

Shawn Kirby is a first-term councilor on the Le Sueur City Council, but he’s been a resident of the community for 35 years. In the race, Kirby emphasized his leadership experience as a former Eagle Scout, President of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Organization and his accomplishments as councilor — approving the County Road 22 (formerly Hwy. 112) turnback project and redevelopment and reconstruction of the downtown mall and Main Street.

“I want to carry on this progression and these improvements that we’ve been doing in a fiscal way,” said Kirby. “We’ve got to survive on these COVID economic times and we’re just going to watch our budgets with that. We have some challenges ahead of us with the Le Sueur Community Center closed down for several months earlier in the spring due to COVID that created some financial crunch. If it gets shut down again we’re going to have more tough decisions to make. Between the financial crisis with COVID and the progression going on we have to bring a good balance.”

Kirby said his priority upon entering office would be navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and city growth. He has pushed for developing the city with tax and utility incentives for developers and investment in roads and public facilities.

David Scheiber, ran on a message of bringing change to city leadership. He placed an emphasis on cutting the city budget rather than raising taxes and bringing more outside funding for projects like affordable housing.

Kirby will step into the role of mayor next year, replacing outgoing Mayor Gregory Hagg who decided not to run for reelection amid health concerns.

Le Sueur Council results

The race for the Le Sueur City Council was a competitive one with four candidates running and three seats open.

Council newcomer Dave Swanberg received the highest share of the vote with 32.20% and 1,358 ballots cast. A Le Sueur resident of 30 years, Swanberg said that he wanted to give back to the community. He campaigned on ensuring the city was fiscally responsible and promoting a clear vision of long-term growth.

Incumbent councilor Scott Schlueter was allowed to retain his seat after being voted in with 24.76% of the vote and a total 1,044 backers. Schlueter has served on the Le Sueur City Council since January after being appointed to replace Councilor Benjamin Rohloff, who had been absent for four months without explanation. Prior to serving on the council, Schlueter served on the city’s Planning Commission, Airport Commission and the Le Sueur Chamber of Commerce. Schlueter considered building affordable housing essential to supporting the Le Sueur-Henderson School District and growing the tax base.

Another council newcomer, Nick Loose, finished in the top three. With 23% of the vote and 970 ballots, Loose along with Schlueter and Swanberg will fill the three open seats on the council.

John Favolise ran for his second term on the Le Sueur City Council, but fell short of the votes necessary to retain his seat. With 804 votes and 19% of the vote, Favolise came in fourth place, meaning that his seat will be filled by one of the winning candidates.

Also exiting the council this year is Councilor Mark Huntington. Huntington declined to campaign for reelection after facing an issue with his heart last August.

“First and foremost, I was amazed by today’s large turn-out in Le Sueur and Le Sueur County,” said Kirby. “It speaks to the participation of our community members and their passion.”

“Secondly, congratulations to our re-elected council members and new members. We have some challenges ahead of us, however, I am confident that with the guidance of our community combined with a city council with momentum and enthusiasm, we will move ahead with some exciting projects and continue the revitalization that is going on within our community.

L”astly, thank you to all who believe in me. I appreciate your support. My best thoughts and wishes to David Schreiber as he pointed out many concerns that I will continue to consider in my role as Mayor of Le Sueur.”

Le Center Mayor Fredrickson, Councilors Scott, Harmeyer reelected
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Three incumbents ran and were re-elected in the Le Center mayoral and council races.

Josh Fredrickson was elected into his fourth term as Mayor of Le Center with 96% of the vote with a total 933 and no challengers on the ballot. Fredrickson said that he ran for re-election to help guide the city through the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. His stated priorities include upgrading city technology to provide residents with better services, developing industrial land, addressing sewer overflows in Rolling Hills and putting pressure on the state to speed up repair of Hwy. 99.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to continue to run for another two years as the Mayor of Le Center,” said Fredrickson. “The nexxt two years are going to be very important navigating what the future is going to look like for the city after the pandemic has ended. We have a good strong city council in place, a council that has been experienced now over the last 4-8 years, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue on the right path providing the great services the people of the city of Le Center have come to expect from elected officials and city employees.”

Incumbent councilors Collin Scott and Christian Harmeyer will both be returning to their seats in 2021. Both candidates ran unopposed for their seats and each claimed roughly half the vote. Scott received 783 votes while Harmeyer won 795. Scott is a TCU Montgomery teacher who will be serving his second term in office following his election in 2016. Harmeyer will enter his third term as city councilor after first taking office in 2021.

The mayor and city council will have some important budgetary decisions to make in the next two years said Fredrickson. With a state deficit looming, Fredrickson said the city could be facing a reduction in Local Goverment Aid (LGA) payments — state funds which contribute to the city’s budget.

“It’s going to take us two years to really, really work and at least lan for the impending loss of revenue.” said Fredrickson. “Either how you make that lost revenue up or what expenses need to be cut into the future. Until We know exactly what that’s going to be, which we won’t until my guess is the second or even third quarter of 2021, it’s going to take a very good effort from city staff, demaprtment heads and the council to make sure there’s a plan in place to respond to that potential cut in LGA. That’s going to be the most priority item out there.”