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Iron County Board election expected to have high turnout

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Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

Voter turnout may be twice as high as other spring elections in Iron County today: At stake are a handful of seats that may shift the way the county board deals with a proposed iron ore mine.

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For a spring election, 20 percent turnout is usually considered decent. Iron County Clerk Mike Saari thinks they could hit 40 percent this year.

Even though 10 of the 15 county board seats are contested, he doesn’t think mining is the only issue. “You have some who specifically ran because of the mining issue, but the majority of them did not,” said Saari.

But Saari does say outside efforts by the pro-mining group Americans for Prosperity, which distributed pamphlets calling seven candidates “radical environmentalists,” have gotten their attention.

“I would say most people from Iron Count don’t really appreciate outside influence,” said Saari. “So I would guess yes, there would be a few more individuals who will show up to vote just because of the excitement of those flyers and then the press coverage after the fact.”

Bobbi Rongstad of Gurney agrees. “All it served to do is rile up everyone on both sides of the issue,” she said. “People in Iron County are pretty private, and they are offended by any outside interference.”

Rongstad is a member of the Iron County Citizens Forum, which put on candidate debates. She says this election could change things, but not like some people think.

“People from the outside are hoping that new candidates will be elected so that we can run the mine out of Iron County,” said Rongstad. “Well, that’s not going to happen. The only thing that would happen if we have new candidates elected is that maybe they’ll start asking some questions.”

Rongstad says of the 10 contested races on the 15-member board, only four or five are focusing on the Gogebic Taconite and the iron ore mine.

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