Winona sees decline in voter turnout

Alek LaShomb, News Editor

The city of Winona had a voter turnout rate of 90% from the 2020 presidential election, according to a city document of certified vote totals.

Voter turnout for the 2020 election was less than the previous two presidential elections, which were 90.8% in 2016 and 94% in 2012.

Winona is divided up into four wards, each one consisting of four precincts.

Winona State University’s main campus belongs to 3rd Ward, 1st Precinct.

3rd Ward, 1st Precinct, had 583 citizens voting in the 2020 election, which was lower than 2016’s voter turnout of 1,177.

Winona State’s west campus belongs to 2nd Ward, 1st Precinct.

2nd Ward, 1st Precinct, had 756 citizens voting in the 2020 election, which was lower than 2016’s voter turnout of 918.

Winona State’s education village and east lake apartments belong to 3rd Ward, 2nd Precinct.

3rd Ward, 2nd Precinct, had 744 citizens voting in the 2020 election, which was lower than 2016’s voter turnout of 837.

City manager Stephen Sarvi said the 2020 presidential cycle may have discouraged citizens from voting due to the political antics leading up to election day.

Sarvi said that, “overall student numbers were low to begin with, so I would imagine they (college students) voted at home.”

Regarding polling location changes, such as what happened with 2nd Ward, 1st Precinct, Sarvi hopes it didn’t deter voters but said the city “had to make adjustments due to the pandemic.”

Sarvi said polling places will likely revert back to their usual locations as long as there isn’t “construction or another pandemic.”

Sarvi said early voting methods, such as in-person voting, will continue to be used in the future but said Minnesota’s voting laws would need to be changed for upcoming elections, along with an assessment of costs and staffing for early voting.

Sarvi said, “there was no issue with city certification. We (city of Winona) did have a recount due to the close numbers during the primary elections but all candidates were okay with the outcome.”

Sarvi said the city has put out statements to address election disinformation but that citizens should “not overreact when someone is saying a lie.”

Sandra Suchla is the auditor and treasurer for Winona County and oversees logistics for elections such as: ordering ballots for the county, coordination with candidates, handling of absentee ballots and reporting of voting irregularities.

Suchla said lower turnout in Winona was possibly due to COVID-19, with college students likely voting in their hometowns rather than the city.

Regarding possible voter disenfranchisement due to polling location changes, Suchla said there were no complaints made aware to her.

Suchla said, “my polling site changed. Where I used to vote was located in a close confined space and with COVID, we wanted places that were more open.”

When asked about disinformation and how to dispel rumors, Suchla said, “elections are expensive and time consuming. It would not be in anyone’s best interest to make an election seem anything but legitimate.”

Suchla said that she “didn’t discover any” cases of voter fraud, or suspicious voting from the 2020 election in Winona County.

Suchla said that, “if more people know the process, it means they (might) not be so suspect of the results.”

Two former members of Warrior’s Vote reflected on the 2020 election.

Willard Huyck is a fourth-year at Winona State, studying public administration.

Natalie Nowatzke is a fourth-year studying biochemistry and political science at Winona State and is also the President of the Student Athlete Advisory committee, which aims to increase student athlete democratic participation.

Both Huyck and Nowatzke were a part of the Warrior’s Vote initiative, which disbanded after the conclusion of the 2020 election.

Huyck said the Warrior’s Vote initiative was a part of the American Democracy Project, a larger campus program that aims to increase democratic participation each election cycle.

For the 2020 election, the Warrior’s Vote initiative was established to increase student turnout, which compensated members such as Huyck and Nowatzke for their non-partisan work.

Huyck said mobilization efforts were different than previous years due to COVID but encouraged students to vote by mail.

Huyck said that some members of Warrior’s Vote were resident advisors in various dormitory halls, which were able to educate and encourage civic duties.

Nowatzke said Warrior’s Vote was able to spread their nonpartisan message of voting through chalk drawings on the sidewalks of campus, informational tables in the library and educational walking tours on campus.

Huyck said that during his time with Warrior’s Vote, strategies to combat misinformation, or educate potential voters, came in the form of the Campus Election Engagement Program (CEEP).

Huyck said CEEP is a nonpartisan disinformation locater tool that helps students differentiate fact from fiction.

Nowatzke said, “we have faith in our democracy. Measures were taken to properly confirm election results.”

Huyck and Nowatzke were unable to comment specifically about student turnout, due to the fact that the data is still being collected and is unavailable at the moment.

Nowatzke hopes future voter turnout programs sponsored by the American Democracy Project “maintains and grows upon their social media presence.”

Newly elected Mayor Scott Sherman defeated challenger Jovy Rocky by 1,650 votes.

Aaaron Repinski defeated Paul Schollmeier for Winona City Council’s At Large seat by 1,388 votes.

Steve Young defeated Chris G. Meier by 1,122 votes for 1st Ward chair.

Pamela Eyden defeated Will Gibson by 439 votes for 3rd Ward chair.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s election data, Winona County voted for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump by .39%, or 106 votes.

Senator Tina Smith defeated challenger Jason Lewis in Winona County by .16%, or 41 votes.

Winona County voted for challenger Dan Feehan over re-elected Representative Jim Hagedorn by 7.12%, or 1,897 votes.

Data regarding Winona State student turnout will be available at a later date on the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement’s (NSLVE) website.

Voter turnout data for the city of Winona is accessible through the Secretary of State’s website, or the city of Winona.