Last voters still in line; Montana asks county officials to wait to release more results

2012-11-06T07:00:00Z 2012-12-20T13:46:32Z Last voters still in line; Montana asks county officials to wait to release more resultsGazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Election Day for hundreds of Billings-area unregistered voters was spent standing in line.

At 8 p.m., when the polls closed at the MetraPark Pavilion, Charles Walks and Josey Wade Redhat were the last two people in a line of about 200 people still waiting to register to vote. 

The line for unregistered voters formed quickly when voting began at 7 a.m. and never shrank.

"I was here earlier and the line was too long," Redhat said.

So he left and came back at 8 p.m. hoping to see a shorter line. Instead, it had grown.

"It was 10 times longer," he said. 

Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County election administrator, said other than the long registration lines, the day ran smoothly for officials with thousands of people passing through the doors to vote. The wait in line for registered voters was about 10 minutes or less.

But for the voters who hadn't yet registered, or their registration had been canceled, the wait was several hours.

"It takes a really long time to build the voter's file," Rutherford said.

He wasn't surprised by the long lines.

"Late registrations is one reason why we moved to the Metra. We needed more space," Rutherford said. "Even though we advertise everywhere to not wait to register, there is always a lot of people who wait. It was the same way in 2008."

Krista Radi, one of those in line, had been waiting for five hours to register to vote by 9 p.m.

"My legs hurt and I'm hungry," she said. 

But, even with the long wait, she believes it's worth it.

"It's my right to vote," she said. 

Still, there was some frustration with the long lines.

Ellis Urist, 78, thought he had registered in January 2011 when he moved to Billings from Wyoming and got his Montana driver's license.

He uses oxygen and had been standing in line for two hours.

"I'm too old to be frustrated, but whoever is in charge of getting voting information out to the public didn't do the job," he said.

Melissa Smylie, of Montana Women Vote, counted nearly 200 people in the late registration line.

"People are leaving before they vote because they don't have time," she said. "We have had a lot of issues with DMV and the voter registration. An unacceptable amount of people believed they were registered to vote with DMV, and they are not."

The other issue is that people didn't anticipate the number of unregistered voters for this election. 

With several hotly contested races on the ballot — nationally and on the state level — Rutherford said the voter turnout for the county could approach the record of 71,200 set in 2008.

By press time Monday night, the final turnout number was not yet known.


 

At 9 p.m., Charles Walks and Josey Wade Redhat were the last two people in line to register to vote at the MetraPark Pavilion. 

They'd been in line for an hour and figured they had another two-hour wait in front of them. There were hundreds of people still waiting to register to vote.

"I was here earlier and the line was too long," said Redhat.

So he left and came back at 8 p.m. hoping to see a shorter line. Instead, it had grown.

"It was 10 times longer," he said. 

Because of the long lines of people waiting to cast a provisional ballot or register to vote, the state asked Yellowstone County to wait to release unofficial vote tallies. 

The county had released an initial batch of data shortly after 8 p.m. The state, worried that those in line would read early results on their smart phones, told Yellowstone County election officials to wait to release additional results. 

Krista Radi, one of those in line, had been waiting for five hours to register to vote by 9 p.m.

"My legs hurt and I'm hungry," she said. 

But, even with the long wait, she believes it's worth it.

"It's my right to vote," she said. 

 


Voting officials have shut the doors at MetraPark Pavilion as polls closed at 8 p.m. 

However, the line of people waiting to register and vote appears to be longer now than it was a 5 p.m. 

Those approaching the front of the registration line reported waiting in line for close to five hours. Those who were registered to vote were able to go straight to their their polling precinct tables. The wait there was minutes. 

 


 

Before getting in line at the MetraPark Pavilion to vote -- and the line stretched outside the door -- voters had to wait in traffic just to get into the MetraPark parking lot during the 5 p.m. rush hour. 

The line of people waiting for same-day voter registration was still outside the pavilion door at 5:30 p.m. and snaked throughout the building.

"My first time voting, I wanted to be a memorable experience," said 18-year-old Nathan Stenson.

Stenson, who had been in line for two hours waiting to register to vote, sat in a camping chair and slowly pushed himself along as the line moved. He and his friends figured they'd be in line another hour before they received ballots.

Clearly, it was shaping up to be the memorable experience he wanted.

Andrew Cummings, 36, is another first-time voter. He registered for an absentee ballot two weeks ago -- too late to get the ballot by mail. So he was at MetraPark Monday evening waiting in line with hundreds of other voters for same-day registration.

"I didn't really think my vote mattered," Cummings said. "Until this year, it seems pretty important."

Cummings said watching the national debt grow convinced him it was time to vote, time to make his voice heard. He said that was the single biggest issue that convinced him to cast his first ballot on Monday. 

Jessica Burch, 22, is voting in her second presidential election. New to Billings, she waited in line with others to register. And even with the long lines and a long wait ahead of her, she said the effort is worth it.

"I want to do something that's bigger than me," she said. 

Voters who are in line at 8 p.m. when polls close will be allowed to cast ballots.


The line for late voter registration was about 300 people long over the lunch hour in Billings.  

Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County election administrator, said the wait in line for registered voters was about 10 minutes or less.

But for voters who haven't yet registered or their registration has been canceled, the wait was several hours.

"It takes a really long time to build the voter's file," Rutherford said during the noon hour.

Rutherford said election clerks working at about a half-dozen stations had processed fewer than 300 late registrations as of noon.

He wasn't surprised by the long lines.

"Late registrations is one reason why we moved to the Metra. We needed more space," Rutherford said. "Even though we advertise everywhere to not wait to register, there is always a lot of people who wait. It was the same way in 2008."

By 2 p.m., more than 150 people were waiting to register and the line stretched from one end of MetraPark's Montana Pavilion to the other before looping back toward the main entrance.

Voters who are in line at 8 p.m. when polls close are allowed to cast ballots.

Addressing other concerns from frustrated voters, Rutherford said that registering for a new driver's license or license plates doesn't automatically register somebody to vote, which is a common misconception.

"That's something they have to request," he said.

He also reminded that absentee voters should bring the ballots that were mailed to them along to the Metra, if that's where they plan to vote.

Other than the long registration lines, the day was running smoothly at the Montana Pavilion, as thousands of people passed through the doors to vote.

As of noon, 50,724 of the 59,700 absentee ballots issued for Yellowstone County had been returned. That's more than half of the 95,000-plus registered voters in the county.

Rutherford said there were still many absentee ballots that needed to be counted, and he expected as many as 12,000 voters to cast their ballots at precincts around the county.


Voters registering on Tuesday were queuing up in long lines with those who had moved to a new precinct or whose registration had been canceled.

Bonnie BearDontWalk found out her registration was invalid because she had a name change since the last election. She was frustrated by the lines.

"I can see why some people decide to just not vote. It's not user friendly and not made for people who have jobs to be standing in line for an hour and a half," said the 28-year-old.

Ellis Urist, 78, thought he had registered in January 2011 when he moved to Billings from Wyoming and got his Montana driver's license.

He uses oxygen and had been standing in line for two hours.

"I'm too old to be frustrated, but whoever is in charge of getting voting information out to the public didn't do the job," he said.

Aaron Visser, 24, had moved since the previous election and hadn't registered in his new precinct.

As he waited in the late registration line for about two hours, he said he saw people ahead of him leave after several hours of waiting because they had to get somewhere, such as work.

Lacey Gaudet, 27, moved back to Billings a couple years ago. When she registered her vehicle in 2011, she registered to vote, she said. But she when she came to vote, she was told she had been canceled and needed to re-register.

"This is crazy and seems really unorganized," Gaudet said.

Melissa Smylie, of Montana Women Vote, counted nearly 200 people in late registration line. "People are leaving before they vote because they don't have time," she said. "We have had a lot of issues with DMV and the voter registration. An unacceptable amount of people believed they were registered to vote with DMV, and they are not."

The other issue is that people didn't anticipate the number of unregistered voters for this election. There are four people working the registration line of 200 people, the line continues to grow.


Not long after the polls opened at 7 a.m., the line of voters waiting to cast their ballots stretched out the the door at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark.

With several hotly contested races on the ballot — nationally and on the state level — Rutherford said the voter turnout for the county could approach the record of 71,200 set in 2008.

"Our bar is set at the 2008 election," he said. "My gut feeling is it’ll be slightly less than that, probably right around 71,000 or so."

Shortly after the polls opened, Rutherford tested the last of three vote-counting machines to make sure there weren't any last-minute surprises.

With the first two already tested on Friday, he ran 765 test ballots filled out by elections staffers through the machine to make sure it properly counted everything.

"It's at 765," he said when the machine finished. "It's right on the money, and that's what we want."

The machines can count as many as 400 ballots per minute, but that's if every one of them is filled out perfectly. If there are issues with a ballot, the machine stops so the staff can remove the ballot and look it over.

Tuesday's test took about 30 minutes.

With the results of the test ballots known ahead of time, Rutherford and poll watchers were able to compare the machine's results to how the fake ballots, which aren't counted in the election, were filled out.

"These are actually usually more accurate than people are," he said.

While the polling places scattered around the county were to be open until 8 p.m., many voters within the county, and across the state, cast their ballots before Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, 49,770 of the 59,580 absentee ballots issued in Yellowstone County — or about 83.5 percent — had already been received. Statewide, 257,591 out of 306,620, or about 84 percent, had been cast.

Rutherford said he expected 10,000 to 12,000 people to vote throughout the day at polling places scattered around the county.

Officials at MetraPark's Montana Pavilion said the early morning voter turnout was as busy as they'd seen it, which Rutherford attributed to the presidential election and the tight Montana senatorial race between Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg.

"We've had people coming in to ask us, 'Can I just vote for president and leave the rest (of the ballot) blank,'" Rutherford said.

Polling places in Yellowstone County are MetraPark, Blue Creek Elementary, Broadview Community Center, Canyon Creek School, Custer School gym, Elder Grove School, Elysian School, Huntley Project Elementary gym, Independent School, Laurel High School, Lockwood School, Pioneer School, Shepherd High School and Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op.

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