Tuesday’s bulging mailbag at the Yellowstone County Elections Office may rival anything Santa Claus will receive in the coming months.
On Halloween morning, the U.S. Postal Service delivered about 2,600 ballots to elections administrator Bret Rutherford’s office in the Yellowstone County Courthouse, bringing the county’s total of voters having marked their ballots so far to about 30,800, or 39 percent of the roughly 78,700 ballots sent out.
Of the 54,436 ballots sent to Billings voters, 21,147 had been returned Tuesday, also about 39 percent of eligible voters.
“These returns are better than the primary, which is normal,” Rutherford said. “The public safety levy is on (the ballot), and that will push the returns.”
Billings voters are selecting a new mayor and council members as well as deciding on a public safety mill levy that could cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $21.60 annually, raising about $2.752 million per year to fund the county attorney's office.
Laurel voters have a number of decisions to make, including council members, mayor, a school bond issue and the town’s next city judge, in addition to the public safety issue.
Lockwood voters are deciding whether to create a high school district as well as the public safety levy.
In Broadview, voters are being asked to decide the public safety measure and to write in the names of three people to serve four-year terms as town commissioners.
Rutherford said he expects up to 32,000 Billings voters to participate in the mail-ballot election by Nov. 7, Election Day. In 2013, the last time Billings voters selected a mayor, about 37,000 people voted, a voter participation rate of 56 percent.
During the Sept. 12 primary election, 24,242 Billings voters, or 43 percent, returned their ballots. That’s the highest turnout for a primary in Billings voting history, Rutherford said.
Rutherford sent about 15,000 ballots to rural county voters containing just the public safety mill levy. Already, 5,300 of those ballots — 35 percent — have been returned. “Rural ballots are coming in well,” Rutherford said.
By law, Rutherford must close the Elections Office from noon to 5 p.m. Monday. It will reopen at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and remain open until 8 p.m. Registration is available right up through Election Day.
Rutherford said he expects to post unofficial results online, at www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov/elections/results/rindex.asp, shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, barring a hiccup such as a server problem. Even that recent experience resulted in only a 20-minute delay, he said.
“I love the mail ballot. I don’t think we should ever go back,” he said. “I always look forward to Election Day — especially the end of it.”