Chuck, Sally and Mike talk gay rights, gun rights and good deeds

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALLTonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about gay rights, tax credits, hiring preferences, capital punishment, gun rights – and a good deed that did not go unnoticed…

Republican lawmaker donates parking space to pregnant Democratic staffer

Secretary of State Communications Director Terri McCoy next to her new parking spot donated by Republican Representative Jerry O'Neil

Secretary of State Communications Director Terri McCoy next to her new parking spot donated by Republican Representative Jerry O’Neil

Evidence that at the end of the day, we’re all Montanans.

The legislature provides parking spaces to state representatives along the two arching driveways leading to the front entrance of the capitol building. But Republican Representative Jerry O’Neil will be walking to work after donating his spot to Terri McCoy, Communications Director for Democratic Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. McCoy is five months pregnant.

“So my center of gravity is a little off,” she laughed in telling how she recently slipped on the ice outside the capitol. She was helped up by some legislative staff members who then, unbeknownst to her, started asking if any representatives would be willing to let McCoy use their parking spot. O’Neil quickly volunteered, though he did not know McCoy personally until she introduced herself to thank him for the space.

“Representative O’Neil is truly a neighbor helping a neighbor and he reached out and helped a pregnant lady he had never met to make sure she didn’t have to walk on the ice for the rest of the session,” she said.

Representative Jerry O'Neil (R-Columbia Falls)

Representative Jerry O’Neil (R-Columbia Falls)

O’Neil, who has made headlines this session for asking to be paid in gold and silver and for sponsoring a number of controversial bills, such as replacing prison time with inflicting of physical pain,says he didn’t know who McCoy was but did know she could use his spot.

“Well it seems simple to me, I mean, I didn’t need it that bad and I only live like six blocks away so I don’t mind walkin’,” O’Neil said.

Long lines at polling places around Montana on Election Day

Voter registration lines at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse

The big day is here. Election 2012.

As of 4 PM today, the secretary of state’s office reports about 86  percent of absentee voters have turned in their ballots—breaking Montana absentee records. A lot of people are still waiting in long lines across the state to vote, that is—after they register.

21 year old Helena resident Kyler Stewart was holding a tall energy drink and waiting in the Lewis and Clark County courthouse. Just a few spots from the counter where he would be able to register.

It’s his first time voting.

“This is a whole new experience for me and I’m glad it’s almost over now,” Stewart said.

“How long have you been standing in line?” I asked him.

He craned his head around to look at the clock, careful not to step out of place in line.

“Uh, two hours now,” he said.

It’s a similar story in cities across Montana; two hour lines in Billings, hour-long waits in Great Falls

Secretary of State Communications Director, Terri McCoy.

“Yeah, we’re hearing from a lot of the larger counties some longer lines which shows great enthusiasm for this election,” said Secretary of State Communications Director, Terri McCoy. “We’re just asking people to be patient and everybody will get their chance to vote.”

Missoula County election officials are reporting a busy day, with turnout similar to the last presidential election in 2008. Spokeswoman Anne Hughes says those waiting till today to register are lining up at the elections center at the Missoula County fairgrounds:

“We do have a couple of overflow rooms for folks so they’re not having to wait outside although I hear it’s lovely outside. I hear the wait at the election center is about an hour this afternoon and it’s probably gonna increase as the day goes on,” Hughes said.

Hughes says the public should use the South Avenue Entrance to the Missoula fairgrounds if folks still need to register.

Voters can register right up until the polls close at 8 PM tonight. After that nobody new can line up, but those in line will go through the process. Those who still haven’t turned in their absentee ballot they received in the mail must now do so in person at the county election office or their particular polling place.

Postmarks are not accepted.

McCoy says election officials are already counting ballots.

“Counties were allowed to prepare their absentees yesterday, under Montana law and they could start counting those votes today,” she said.

Results from the Secretary of State’s office will begin to go live at 8 PM tonight. It’s unclear how long it will take for final results.

Election officials say all the late registrants could delay the release of results while all those last minute ballots are counted.

Back at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse, Kyler Stewart was up next to register, wishing it all could just be rushed along a bit. Some people get voting day off, but he was late for work.

“I was supposed to be at work at three o’clock and I had to call my boss and tell him I’m standing in line to vote,” Stewart said.

Engaging in his civic duty, even if it annoyed him a little bit.

State already receives back record number of absentee ballots

The election billed by many as one of the most important in Montana history waits just one day away. Votes have already been cast by hundreds of thousands of Montanans. The state has already received back a record number of absentee ballots.

As of Monday morning, nearly 80 percent of absentees sent to voters have been returned.

“We have issued and already received back a record number of absentee ballots,” said Secretary of State Communications Director Terri McCoy.

She says nearly 240 thousand ballots have been turned back in. That’s already beat the old record set back in the 2008 election of 212 thousand ballots.

Yet, 80 percent of absentee ballots received leaves 20 percent of the ballots still out there. McCoy reminds voters at this point those ballots have to be submitted in person.

“Instead of by mail because all ballots have to be received by the county election office by 8 PM on November 6th and postmarks are not accepted,” she said.

A line of voters stretches out the door of the Lewis and Clark County Elections office.

“It’s been like this since 8 in the morning,” said Election Administrator Marilyn Bracken.

The people in the line are those yet to register to vote.That can be done all the way until the close of polls on voting day at 8 PM.

And if people are in line when the doors close, they do still get to vote. Bracken says during the 2008 election, two lines of people were still out the door of her office.

“We didn’t get done voting those people until 10,” Bracken said.

It’s unclear at this point how long it will take to count the votes, and some of the races look to be very close.

“After all those results are in, we will tag potential recount races as well,” McCoy said.

And with recounts, we may not know the final results  until after election day.

Deadline passes for petition signature efforts; no results for a month

Time is up for turning in petition signatures for the November Ballot. Advocates for various ballot initiatives have been been asking voters to sign these petitions for months now. Two initiatives look very likely to make the ballot, with others uncertain.

But the Secretary of State’s office says a lot of work has to be done before we know what makes the ballot.

Here’s what we do know. IR-124 will appear on the November Ballot. That’s the initiative that puts the Medical Marijuana reform bill passed by the last legislature before voters. We’ve actually known that for a while now. Signature gatherers got their totals in very early.

Then there’s Initiative 166. This is the non-binding requirement that elected Montana officials put into place policies saying corporations are not people. Sponsors released a statement this week saying they have turned in enough signatures too.

“But I would just like to remind people that there is still a certification and tabulation process that could change the number of those signatures that were turned in,” said Communications Director for the Montana Secretary of State’s Office Terri McCoy. The turning-in of signatures is far from the last word on initiatives.

“Every single signature is checked and verified,” she said, “and not only verified that you are a voter in the state but that your signature matches what you have on record with your voter registration.”

County election officials do this across the state. For initiatives altering state policy, they need to count almost 25-thousand signatures. For those altering the state Constitution, it’s almost 50 thousand.

Lewis and Clark County Elections Supervisor Marilyn Bracken says they won’t be able to even start counting the signatures until they get through the big stack of voter registration cards that go along with many of those signatures. She says that’s unusual—so many people registering to vote in order to sign petitions.

“That didn’t used to happen that way, we didn’t used to get a big stack of registrations that kind of slows us down because we can’t do the petitions until the registrations are in. Otherwise there’d be a lot of people and it wouldn’t qualify,” Bracken said.

Officials are counting for four other initiatives right now—including one defining personhood as beginning at conception. But the Secretary of State’s office won’t be releasing the final signature counts until July 20th.