Byron McKinney stood in line Tuesday with his wife and two sons, waiting to sign in and cast his ballot at the Belgrade Special Events Center.
“It’s mandatory,” he said of voting. “At least in my house it is.”
While the polls weren’t exactly hopping Tuesday around lunchtime, a steady flow of people trickled in. Election judge Greg Sullivan said the polls were twice as busy for the general election than they were during the June primary race.
“It’s not the definition of busy, but there’s more people than I thought there would be,” he said.
Katelynn Noorlander, 17, was one of three Belgrade High School students who worked the polls Tuesday for extra credit for their American government class. The high schoolers were charged with sending voters to the right precincts.
Noorlander can’t vote because of her age, but said she is interesting in the process.
“It’s interesting to watch since we’re in advanced placement government,” she said. “It’s cool because we get to participate in what in we’re learning.”
Voters Tuesday shared Noorlander’s sentiment and said casting ballots is an integral part of being American.
“I served in the armed services for 21 years and we have this right as Americans,” McKinney said as he stood in line.
“Not only is it a constitutional right, it’s our patriotic duty,” McKinney added.
Teresa Blossom was rushing out the door after casting her ballot. People need to vote in order to keep the machine running smoothly, she said. But sometimes even voting can’t prevent breakdowns.
“You have to vote, otherwise you get idiots in office,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, though, and you still get idiots anyway.”
Out in Manhattan, election judge Harriet Morgan greeted voters in the activities room at Manhattan High School. The voting booths were packed with people around lunchtime.
“It’s been steady all day,” she said. “Sometimes it’s feast or famine.”
After casting his vote and visiting with election judges, Wendell Townsend, 92, said he has never missed voting in an election. Furthermore, he has voted in Manhattan all his life save one year.
“In 1940, I was living in Los Angeles and I used an absentee ballot,” he said. “I was 21 and working for Lockheed-Martin and that was the only time I haven’t voted here.”
In all, voters Tuesday said they were happy about being part of the bigger picture.
“We get our voice and become part of the decision-making process,” said John Schutter as he headed out the door of Manhattan High School.
TURNOUT NUMBERS HIGH
County election officials said Tuesday balloting at most precincts was busy. Election administrator Charlotte Mills said traffic through her office at the courthouse was brisk in the morning.
“It’s been pretty busy at some of these precincts,” election administrator Charlotte Mills said Tuesday morning. “The polls are busy today.”
Mills said Thursday the election office counted 31,573 ballots. An additional 500 provisional ballots will be counted on Monday.
Gallatin County is home to 49,443 active registered voters, she said. Active registered voters are those who registered before the close of registration this fall or who returned a voter information card since the 2008 general election.
Based on that number — 49,443 — and the number of ballots counted — 31,573 — voter turnout Tuesday was 63.8 percent in Gallatin County. The official number reported on the Montana Secretary of State’s website is much lower — 48.7 percent — which is based on the total number of registered voters, which includes inactive voters. That number is 63,917.
85% OF ABSENTEES VOTED
Mills also noted that among absentee voters, turnout topped 85 percent. The election office issued 19,998 absentee ballots, including those issued on Election Day, and received 17,156 back, she said.
Only 349 of the absentee ballots mailed since Oct. 4 were returned by the post office as undeliverable, she said. “That means our database is pretty clean.”
But voters who chose to cast ballots in person were no slackers either. In the evening, a couple hours before the close of polls, a volunteer in Mills’ office called the activity there “solid.”
Later, Mills quantified that statement by saying turnout at the election office was unexpectedly brisk.
“It’s been really, really nuts here all day,” she said. “The line never actually left the second floor, but it was the first time the line’s gone out the (election office) door.”
Elsewhere in the county, polling places reported similar traffic, she said. “I was out at three polling sites today and it was really busy. Out at River Rock it was really slammed.”
“This was totally unexpected,” she added.
MILLS EXPLAINS ERROR IN TUESDAY NIGHT RETURNS
Final Gallatin County election returns are lower than the results we and other news agencies reported on our websites late Tuesday night.
Gallatin County election administrator Charlotte Mills said she made an error when creating reports at around 11 p.m. Tuesday. The error caused some votes to be counted twice. The mistake was caught at around 1 a.m. and correct numbers were reported by around 3:30 a.m.
In an e-mail Wednesday morning, Mills said election staffers “had to redo the reports to correct an upload problem.” On Thursday, she explained further.
“We have to take the cards out of the machines and then put them into the software, and it’s a little confusing because you have to uncheck two boxes and if you don’t get one of them unchecked properly then the numbers fill in wrong,” she said. “The 11 o’clock run got uploaded incorrectly. It was a human error, not a machine error. It was my mistake.”
The mistake affected the reporting of the numbers, not the actual numbers themselves, she explained.