HELENA – On Tuesday, election officials across Montana dealt with turnout much higher than usual for a midterm election. Lewis and Clark County wasn’t an exception to that trend.
Lewis and Clark County Treasurer and Clerk and Recorder Paulette DeHart, the county’s election administrator, said she was surprised by the long lines for people waiting to vote – and especially for those doing same-day voter registration.
“Yesterday really looked like a presidential election, when you looked at the absentees coming in and the late registrations,” she said.
DeHart said several polling places ran short on ballots.
County officials started counting absentee ballots at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. They wrapped up their initial count at around 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
DeHart said the count took longer because election officials had to help the people waiting in line to register or vote.
“All your resources are dealing with the lines, so the process to process those ballots then takes a back step,” she said.
As of Wednesday, the county had processed 35,032 ballots – meaning voter turnout was at least 73.7 percent. DeHart said there are also several hundred provisional ballots that will be counted next week. Once those are included, she estimated the total may exceed the number of votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.
Around the state, the Montana Secretary of State’s office reports more than two-thirds of registered voters – more than 480,000 by Wednesday night – cast a ballot in Tuesday’s election. That is the highest turnout for a midterm election in the state since 1994.
In several counties, including Cascade and Missoula, votes were still being counted well into the day on Wednesday. DeHart said Lewis and Clark County might have had to count that long as well if they had had enough races to require a two-page ballot.
DeHart was on the ballot herself Tuesday, running unopposed for her seventh term as treasurer and clerk and recorder. She said her office relies on the hard work of many permanent and temporary employees.
“You would be so surprised to see how many people acknowledge that in the community – the people working in the elections office,” she said. “They are constantly thanked for their efforts. It’s pretty gratifying.”