For as much as Wright County residents take voting in the general election seriously – routinely turning out in higher numbers than almost any county in the nation – the turnout in primary elections has been surprisingly low.
The number of voters historically have been exponentially lower in the primary elections. In addition, the results in Wright County often don’t reflect how voters will react in November. Over the last eight years, the results of a primary have rarely mirrored the results in the general election.
In 2012, there were primaries in four commissioner districts due to countywide redistricting. In District 5, eight candidates were on the ballot and 1,638 ballots were cast. Incumbent Commissioner Dick Mattson finished third in the primary, eliminating him from being on the ballot for the November election. Charlie Borrell won the primary by just 27 votes, garnering 367 votes as opposed to 340 from challenger Leonard Wozniak. In the general election, 11,733 votes were cast in District 5 – more than seven times the votes from the primary – and Borrell won with 49.3 percent of the votes (5,779), while Wozniak finished with 5,474 votes (46.7 percent).
That same year, in District 4, five candidates vied to make the final two in the primary. Just 896 votes were cast and Mary Wetter carried 25.5 percent of the votes (229). Current Commissioner Mike Potter finished second with 199 votes (22.2 percent), beating out third-place candidate David Dayon by just 15 votes (184). In the general election, 9,746 votes were cast for county commissioner in District 5 – almost 11 times more than the primary. Potter earned 5,083 votes (52.2 percent) to defeat Wetter who got 4,585 votes (47.0 percent).
In District 2 in 2012, there was more voting done in the primary because two sitting incumbents – Rose Thelen and Pat Sawatzke – were forced to run against each other due to the new redistricting commissioner boundary lines. The four candidates running combined to draw 1,518 votes. Thelen won the primary with 597 votes (39.3 percent), while Sawatzke finished second with 563 votes (37.1 percent). In the November election that year, 11,798 votes were cast for District 2 commissioner – almost eight times the number of primary votes. Sawatzke won the election with 6,249 votes (53.0 percent), while Thelen brought in 5,505 votes (46.7 percent).
In District 1 in the 2012 election, five candidates were in the running to move on to the general election. A total of 1,512 votes were cast and it was clear that it was a two-horse race, with Christine Husom garnering 577 votes (38.2 percent), just 27 votes more than Fred Naaktgeboren (36.4 percent). In the general election, 12,404 votes were cast – more than eight times as many. Husom won the election by more than 1,300 votes, earning 6,833 votes (55.1 percent) to Naaktgeboren’s 5,513 votes (44.5. percent).
The last primary election for a commissioner seat was in District 2 in 2016, where three candidates squared off for Sawatzke’s vacant seat. Just 826 votes were cast. Tom Perrault took first place with 327 votes (39.6 percent). Darek Vetsch brought in 252 votes (30.5 percent- just five votes more than Bradley Fyle. The results were so close for second place that it required a recount before Vetsch was announced as the second-place finisher and moved on to the November election. In that election, 10,775 votes were cast – 13 times as many as the primary. Vetsch won comfortably, getting 6,111 votes (56.7 percent) to Perrault’s 4,614 votes (42.8 percent).
As ballots in the 2020 primary are cast tomorrow (Aug. 11), the numbers are expected to be higher than normal for a primary, but markedly less than what will be coming in November – making every vote cast in August critically important for those looking to appear on the ballot in the general election.