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Nov. 4 skybox

Deadlines? We’ve got them, too.

Unfortunately, this edition had to be on the press just about the time the polls closed. Find coverage of yesterday’s Election in the Nov. 5, 2020 edition or online at owatonna.com.

Polls remain busy on Election Day despite record-breaking absentee voters

The moment the doors opened on Election Day, the polling places set up at the Steele County History Center and Sacred Heart Church both reported a busy stream of anxious voters.

Within the first hour, election judges at Sacred Heart, serving a precinct in southern Owatonna, said more than 100 people cast their vote. At the History Center, serving the neighboring precinct in southern Owatonna, more than 400 votes had been submitted before noon.

“That’s actually about average for past presidential elections,” said Peter Kehler, the head election judge at the History Center. “We had disappointedly few people turn out for the primaries, so this has been good to see.”

Though Kehler said the turnout has been on the mark for previous years, which combined with the absentee ballots could still serve as a sign that Steele County could see a record year for voter turnout. Prior to Election Day, 9,236 absentee ballots had been completed either through the mail or in person. Steele County Auditor Laura Ihrke said the early voter turnout is more than triple the previous record of roughly 3,000 ballots, and comprises 40% of the 22,912 voters registered prior to Tuesday.

Of course, Minnesota has same-day registration, and both polling places reported a steady amount of new registrations taking place that day. The average voter turnout for presidential elections is 82%, according to Ihrke, who said she believes it will be about the same this year as well.

“I’m sure it will be high just by the early voter turnout alone, we had 270 people come in to vote in person just on Monday,” Ihrke said.

Aside from a the busy morning and potential for a record-breaking year at the polls, this election is unlike any before as Steele County election judges navigated through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Bringing on more judges to help promote social distancing, increase sanitizing and directing traffic is one of the many differences seen at the polls this year.

“This is really a great spot to have an election because we have more than enough room to social distance,” Kehler said about the History Center. “People have been wonderful and respectful toward us and the process; we’ve even had some thank you’s for wiping down the tables between each use.”

Kehler said they also set up a system to allow for curbside voting for those who do not feel comfortable going all the way into the voting booth. When that happens, two election judges have to walk to submit the ballot into the machine together to ensure the integrity of the vote.

“We put all this work into Election Day so that everything can work out,” Ihrke said about the extra precautions polling places are taking to keep the public safe.

Though COVID-19 is certainly a concern and driving force behind some of the absentee voting in Steele County, Ihrke said it is combined with the massive amount of publicity political parties pushed to encourage early voting.

“I think it’s a combination of different parties sending out media to encourage voting early as well as everything with COVID-19,” Ihrke said. “People didn’t want to worry about waiting, or about possibly getting sick on Election Day and not being able to come in and vote.”

Seykora named firefighter of the year

Though it is no longer a surprise when it is announced another annual event is canceled due to COVID-19, the Exchange Clubs of Owatonna have decided not to let the pandemic keep them from serving the community.

In a typical year, the Steele County Exchange Club honors a member of law enforcement with the Steele County Sheriff’s Office, the Moonlight’s honor a police officer of the year, and the Exchange Club of Owatonna hosts the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, the Book of Golden Deeds, and honors a firefighter of the year.

Though all these events have been canceled, the Owatonna Fire Department decided to still nominate one of their peers for the 2020 honor. Ryan Seykora, a fire equipment operator with the department, has been selected as the firefighter of the year and will be honored at the 2021 Firefighter Banquet.

“All of our firefighters are important,” the Exchange Club wrote in a statement. “Though we only honor one each year, they are all to be honored for the services they provide to our community.”

Seykora has served with the Owatonna Fire Department since 2014, sitting in his current position for the past two years. Those who nominated Seykora said he enjoys promoting the mission of the fire department to the community and helping develop the next generation of great firefighters.

The Steele County Exchange Club, Exchange Club of Owatonna, and Moonlight Exchange Club have joined forces to create the Getting Right with Our World – or GROW – Exchange Campaign. Despite the clubs being unable to fulfill their community service projects in 2020, the clubs have formed this campaign in order to do acts of kindness for the community during this time of need.

“All three clubs have been collecting items for need for Rachel’s Light,” said Exchange Club President Gail Buckingham, adding the first group activity will be a donation to the transitional home for women and children that opened last fall in Steele County. The groups will present the items and donations to a representative from Rachel’s Light on Nov. 19.

Buckingham said the groups will be continuing to look for further ways they can give back to the community during this unprecedented time in place of their main community service projects that were canceled.

Toss the pumpkin in the backyard, not the garbage
  • Updated

As you’re gathering the outdoor Halloween decorations to store away until next year, you might notice your once-smiling jack-o’-lantern isn’t looking too happy anymore. Instead of tossing Jack into the trash, residents can take a more environmentally friendly route and compost it instead.

The MPCA encourages residents to compost their pumpkins, as well as other organic material, as an eco-friendly way to reduce waste. Additionally, compost provides numerous benefits to the environment.

“It’s kind of like recycling. It’s kind of like a waste product and then turns it into something useful,” said Tim Farnan of the MPCA. Farnan is a principal planner in the sustainable material management unit with a focus on organic waste. His unit promotes waste prevention, recycling and composting across the state.

Compost helps protect water quality, helps restore soil health, helps plants grow and thrive, improves drought resistance and reduces erosion and runoff. Beyond all of these benefits, composting poses an opportunity to reduce harmful gas emissions.

“We prefer to have organic waste managed in composting rather than ending up in a landfill,” Farnan said. “When organic waste ends up in a landfill, it produces methane gas, which isn’t helpful to greenhouse gas emission. If you instead compost it, the process does not release nearly as many gases, so composting can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Before composting, remove all non-plant items from the pumpkin, such as candles and wax. Pumpkins with paint or glitter should not be composted.

From there, people can find compost sites by visiting pca.state.mn.us/waste/compost-facility-site-locator. The site’s map shows larger composting sites across the state and a nearby facility can be found by searching a zip code.

“Many, maybe not all, but many of those will also accept pumpkins,” Farnan said.

Be sure to call the facility ahead of time to find out the facility’s hours, if they accept waste from residents or nonresidents and if they charge for the drop off.

Another option is for residents to compost the pumpkin in their own backyard, Farnan says.

Yard waste and food leftovers make up 16-30% of the waste made by the average household. In Minnesota, food waste makes up 12% and yard waste makes up 18% of total waste produced, according to the MPCA. State law bans throwing yard waste away into landfills.

The MPCA boils down how to compost into four simple steps: make or buy a compost bin, toss in yard waste and food waste, add water when needed and mix. For more information on setting up your own backyard composting site, visit pca.state.mn.us/waste/composting-your-backyard.