Primary Day slow at the polls, absentee ballots up

Andrew Funk (left) waits to receive his ballot at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse

Andrew Funk (left) waits to receive his ballot at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse

The votes are still coming in. The polls are still open for Montana’s Primary Election. Hotly-contested races for Governor, US House and Attorney General hang in the balance.

And yet, at polling places, Election Day excitement seems pretty mild.

College student Andrew Funk just moved from Missoula back to Helena for the Summer. He had a spare minute while the people in front of him registered to vote.

“I grew up here and I have personal connections to the people in this community running, so I wanted to cast my vote for the people that I really know,” he said.

In a room right next to Funk, those registered could grab their ballots and turn them in. There was a fairly constant stream of voters, but it was a pretty tepid one.

Lewis and Clark County Election Supervisor Marilyn Bracken says it’s the slowest Primary Day she has seen in a long time. Her office was a lot busier the last two primaries, 2008 and 2010.

“In 2008 they were lined up two lines out to the motor vehicle department,” she said.

That’s a pretty long line, considering by that time Andrew Funk had already finished registration and was grabbing his ballot.

“We don’t have an urgency of races,” said Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, “We don’t have a presidential race hanging in the balance.”

2008 was a unique situation. The Democratic Presidential Primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was still up in the air. Montana’s results really mattered nationally. There’s nothing like that now. McCulloch expects the primary turnout percentage to be somewhere in the 30s, maybe low 40s. She says overall, that’s about average.

There is one bright spot. The state sent out a record number of absentee ballots for a primary, almost 190 thousand. Latest figures show 67 percent have been turned back in. A decade ago the absentee return rate was more like 15 percent.

“So it really has changed the mindset and people can sit at home around the kitchen table and fill out their ballot and they can go online or check the literature and so they can do it at their leisure,” McCulloch said.

A dozen counties across the state will be hand-counting their ballots. Election officials say this does not mean they will be late, however the votes are tallied.

“It’s good that counties could prepare their ballots yesterday and quite a few did,” McCulloch said. “So they can kind of lay them flat and get them ready to go through the machines and count them….I think we’re gonna see some results by 10 O’Clock.”

And for those of you who haven’t voted yet—the 60 to 70 percent of you out there. If you’re reading this right now, you still have a chance. YOU can still vote.

“If they hear it at 7:55 tonight, they can still take part,” McCulloch said. “They can still register to vote up until 8 O’Clock they can return their absentee ballots up until 8 O’Clock and they can vote at the polls until 8 O’Clock.”

Until 8 PM, you still totally have time. You can still do it.

And don’t forget, Montana Public Radio will be bringing you live coverage of results and analysis on the hour starting as soon as the polls close at 8 o’clock.

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