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.

Pam Bucy touts courtroom experience in Democratic Primary for Attorney General

Pam Bucy

Democratic Attorney General Candidate Pam Bucy says she knows a lot about the seat she is looking to win. She served as the Executive Assistant Attorney General under former Attorney General Mike McGrath for seven years. Bucy wants voters to focus on that experience when choosing between her and primary challenger, Jesse Laslovich.

Pam Bucy asked to meet me in the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse across from the County jail. She got her start down the hall in Justice Court and would have been pretty busy this time of day.

“One o’clock…that’s when the prisoners appear from across the street. That’s when we as county attorneys would go in and that’s when you do all your bond hearings and all of that,” she said.

Bucy says she learned so much about the criminal justice system from that job. She moved from the County Attorney’s Office to working for District Court, then over to the Supreme Court. Bucy wants Democrats to look at that legal experience, that courtroom experience when marking their primary ballots. Her opponent, Jesse Laslovich, points to his long experience as a State Legislator, in both the House and the Senate.

That’s something Bucy does not have. She says working with the Legislature is not an enormous part of the Attorney General’s job, though.

“The daily work of the Attorney General’s Office…is making legal decisions, making administrative decisions and in all deference to my good friend Jesse, this is not a legislative job, at all,” she said in a recent primary debate with Laslovich.

The A.G. does interact with the Legislature in pushing for funding and advocating for certain policies. She says she has as much experience as Laslovich as far as that interaction is concerned. She says she was doing it from the side of the Attorney General’s office since Laslovich’s first term as a young representative.

“I’ve been carrying the department’s legislation in the legislature for as long –you know, since he was 19 years old I’ve been doing that kind of work,” she said.

Jesse Laslovich also does have his fair share of legal experience as an attorney. He even worked in the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office for a year.

“I was there for 7 and a half years doing a wide variety of work,” Bucy countered.

Both candidates are asking to be considered on their different types of experience because on substantive policy, they’re very similar. Bucy admits that.

“On some of the more major issues I really do think we probably agree and I think that’s why we’re both democrats and that’s what led us both to this place,” she said.

She says social justice issues would be one of her key priorities if elected.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about is ensuring that our insurance industry does not reintroduce gender discrimination into the purchase of insurance products,” she said.

She wants to better protect children from online predators. She says the Attorney General’s position on the state land board is key to getting fair market value for leases on school trust lands. And Bucy applauds current Attorney General Steve Bullock, especially when it comes to his defense of Montana’s ban on corporate campaign spending. That law now waits for judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court and Bucy says she would very much like to carry on Bullock’s work.

“I would absolutely be thrilled to make the argument at the United State’s Supreme Court that Montana’s people want to control their elections and not corporations,” she said.

Before she gets there, she would have to get through the November election. But she has to pass the primary first of all. Despite her resume, Bucy says running a statewide campaign is a whole different kind of challenge.

“I find this to be the toughest job that I’ve ever had to do,” Bucy said.


GOP Gubernatorial candidates release TV ads

Absentee voters across Montana are receiving their ballots for the June primary election. Election officials mailed out 170 thousand ballots this week. That may end up being half the total number of voters that participate in the primary.

Some hopefuls in the republican gubernatorial race think it’s time to begin a TV advertising blitz.

Out of seven Republican candidates for Governor, three are taking to the TV airwaves, focusing on jobs. Former Naval Officer and State Senator Corey Stapleton began airing his 30 second spot last week. He starts by referencing his former job driving aircraft carriers. He says he knows how to turn a big ship around.

“We need a ‘common sense’ conservative that will do things for the right reason. I can be that kind of Governor,” Stapleton says in the advertisement. Stapleton said in a Tuesday interview the term ‘common-sense’ describes most Montanans.

“We look at ordinary problems and have common-sense solutions and so common-sense conservative just means I’m one of us,” Stapleton said. He says his campaign is releasing another ad next week, adding a lot of military members vote absentee and hopes his status as the only active-duty military candidate will bring in that voting block.

Businessman, author and one-time counter-terrorism consultant Neil Livingstone– he’s releasing 10 television ads, buying up a lot of TV time. Livingstone says he’s buying the ads himself, along with his running mate Ryan Zinke. He believes most Republicans have yet to get to know the candidates for Governor.

“We think this race is going to be won or lost in the last four or five weeks,” he said.

The ads paint him as not a business as usual politician, he says this is about getting the state moving now.

“I’ll step on whatever toes are necessary to do that. Because the working man or working woman that doesn’t have a job today, they don’t need one in three years,” Livingstone said.

Candidate Rick Hill easily leads the Republican pack in terms of fundraising. His ad shows him standing in front of a fence post mill outside of Helena. He is focusing on his time as Montana’s U.S. Representative and as a small business owner.

Hill’s ad calls him a ‘tested conservative.’

“It’s not complicated, reduce regulations, prioritize spending, and get government out of the way so businesses like this can grow,” Hill says in the ad, pointing back at the mill. He says if small businesses in the state can each add one or two jobs, it will go a long way in reducing unemployment.

“But more important we want to find jobs that pay better and jobs like that job where we’re processing, manufacturing, those are some of the best paying jobs in Montana  and we’d like to see more of those kind of jobs,” Hill said.

Other Republican candidates are former state Sen. Ken Miller, former Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch, political newcomer Bob Fanning, and Choteau County commissioner James O’Hara.

Recent campaign finance reports indicate they might not have enough money to run significant statewide TV advertising.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.