Christianson, Gardner to vie for Willmar's Ward 2 council seat
WILLMAR — Voters in Willmar’s Second Ward will choose between Ron Christianson and Steve Gardner this November in a closely watched contest for a seat on the Willmar City Council.
Christianson, the incumbent, and Gardner, a former City Councilman seeking a comeback, won a three-way primary race Tuesday, placing them on the general election ballot Nov. 4.
Unofficial totals put Christianson first, with 289 votes, or 40.9 percent of the total. Gardner was close behind with 239 votes, or 33.9 percent.
Rich Taylor, making his first bid at local elected office, came in third with 177 votes, about one-fourth of the total but not enough to make the general election ballot.
Christianson and Gardner both expressed appreciation Tuesday night to their supporters.
“I appreciate all the voters that voted for me,” said Christianson, who is seeking a sixth term on the City Council.
Gardner said he’s “grateful that I’m going to get the chance to move on in November. I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”
With allegations of dysfunction dogging the current Willmar City Council, the primary race among Christianson, Gardner and Taylor was watched closely, not only in the Second Ward but citywide as well.
Christianson managed to carry all three precincts in his ward on Tuesday, although he and Taylor were just two votes apart in the ward’s first precinct, where both candidates had a strong base of support.
“The numbers, I guess, speak for themselves,” Christianson said. “It’s encouraging for me that people still have confidence in me.”
Gardner acknowledged that he has “a tall hill to climb” to unseat a longtime incumbent. But he said his showing in the primary indicates that voters may be ready for a new representative on the City Council.
“I think there’s plenty of folks in the Second Ward who want change and they showed it by voting for me and Rich tonight,” Gardner said.
Christianson and Gardner said they’ll devote the months between now and Nov. 4 to campaigning, door-knocking and being visible to the voters in the ward located in southwest Willmar.
“You’ve got to go out and meet the people,” Christianson said.
With few high-profile local contests besides the Second Ward, voter turnout across Kandiyohi County was mostly light on Tuesday. Participation averaged around 10 percent, with some precincts reporting a somewhat higher turnout.
Returns began flowing in less than an hour after the polls closed at 8 p.m., although it took until after 10 p.m. for the final precinct in Ward Two to submit its results.
Polling appeared to go smoothly throughout the day. The only hitch: voters who accidentally voted in more than one party ticket on their ballot, forcing them to register a spoiled ballot and start over.
Local absentee voting, which no longer requires Minnesota voters to provide a reason for casting an absentee ballot, also appeared to go smoothly on Tuesday.