Same-day registration, technical glitches slow elections reporting
(Missoula Current) A few unusual circumstances caused a few of Montana’s larger counties to issue their election results a little later than in past years.
Missoula County is often one of the earlier counties to post its initial report. But the Elections Office was unable to issue its 8:30 p.m. report due to a technical problem.
The 2021 Legislature passed Senate Bill 351, which requires county election offices to test their voting tabulation machines a day prior to the election. The Missoula County office had run that test on Monday.
Then the Elections Office processed all the absentee ballots it had already received. Although many voters had already mailed their ballots in, many dropped their absentee ballots off at the Elections Center on Tuesday because there was reportedly a line of cars extending about three blocks about midday.
Missoula County elections administrator Bradley Seaman said the workers were double-checking the initial report they produced at 8 p.m. and noticed some numbers from the tabulators didn’t match those from the reporting software.
Some trouble-shooting revealed that some numbers that had been used for testing the day before hadn’t been cleared from the software.
“We cleared that out and updated those reports before the midnight run of reports so it was an accurate and clear report,” Seaman said.
Missoula County also used to use M100 tabulators to count ballots and votes at several precincts. In 2022, the state of Montana no longer certified the M100 machines, so now all ballots are processed at the elections office. It’s not known whether that adds to the delay.
The Missoula Elections Office had processed most of its almost 50,000 ballots by morning. As of 11 a.m., only 5,500 ballots remained.
Flathead County had to process a similar number of ballots - about 47,000 - so its first results also weren’t available until midnight. By 11 a.m., 13,400 ballots remained mainly because the county commission race had write-in candidates that had to be manually tabulated.
Gallatin County also lagged behind in getting out its initial report, partly because people were still lined up at 8 p.m. at the county courthouse to register and vote. The last person finally cast their vote about three hours later.
At the end of September, a Montana judge ruled that a Republican-sponsored bill eliminating same-day registration was unconstitutional. As a result, several Montanans apparently took advantage of the opportunity to register on Tuesday.
Gallatin County also struggled with an inability to find enough election workers, according to the Bozeman Chronicle. Elections administrator Eric Semeral had to pause the ballot counting between 2:30 and 8 a.m. and was working with a skeleton crew on Wednesday.
As of noon, Gallatin County still had 6,000 of its 44,000 ballots to process.
The situation in Butte-Silver Bow County was a little more unique. The county couldn’t use the Butte Civic Center as its usual polling location for several precincts because the building was being used for the filming of the television show, “1883,” a spinoff of “Yellowstone.”
The location was shifted to the Butte Plaza Mall. It’s not likely that caused any additional delays in elections reporting, but the Butte-Silver Bow report was also delayed until midnight.
Montana has between 94% and 97% of its votes counted by noon Eastern Time the day after Election Day, according to the Associated Press.