New voting setup is easier on voters and volunteers

2014-06-03T20:30:00Z 2014-06-04T00:50:04Z New voting setup is easier on voters and volunteersBy NICK BALATSOS The Billings Gazette

In past primaries, long lines causing big headaches have been enough to deter some Billings residents from casting a ballot. 

On Tuesday, though, that wasn't the case. Voters zipped in and out of the Metra Pavillion, weaving first through a cluster of petitioners, without a hitch. It was like clockwork, one volunteer said.  

What changed?

Some of this year's success can be attributed to a new system, which effectively eliminated an extra step in the voting process.

In past years, voters had to check in based on their respective precincts. If a person forgot his or her voting card or precinct, long lines often developed. Only after a voter's precinct was determined could they look up a name. 

This year, Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford implemented a new system. Instead of having voters check in with their precinct, on Tuesday, they just had to know their names. 

Rutherford said the only time he saw a line was when a husband and wife came in, and even then it was just two people.  

John Kaderavek, a poll worker, said the new system is a major improvement. "Not everyone knows their precinct, but everyone knows their name," he said. 

The system has made the process easier not only for the workers and volunteers, but also for the voters. 

Voters told Kaderavek as much on their way out the door. 

"When they're going out the door you ask them and they say 'That was easy.' " This was a nice change from a few years ago, "when people were saying, 'I don't know if I'll come back,' " he said.

Another contributing factor was the relatively small turnout. 

Rutherford, who was still counting votes, said he'd be surprised if 2,000 people show up. 

Corey Stapleton, who was greeting voters at the polls, said he's been trying to compare this year to 2010, but "I don't even think we'll see those numbers," he said. 

"In the state's largest county, you'd expect this place to be packed." 

Robert Wiley, who's been an election judge for more than 20 years, said the low numbers had him banking on an early night. 

Rutherford said turnout this year, while low, is about average for a primary year. He said the biggest year they had for a primary was in 2008 when President Barack Obama was making his initial run and Montana was a swing state. That year they had 37,187 people voting.

People voting absentee — comprising a significant portion of the vote — was another factor. 

"It's been really slow," said Barb Cox, a voter registration clerk. "I think mail ballots have helped a lot." 

Cox said they sent out 47,488 absentee ballots, of which 32,713 were accepted. She said they reject a big portion of the ballots for not having a signature or, worse, having the wrong signature. 

She said they handled 118 to 124 late registrants. Regardless, she said, "It's been really smooth. People are in and out."

Sue Begger usually votes absentee, citing the convenience and flexibility it offers her. But this year she chose to vote on primary election day.

"If we pay taxes ... we need to be responsible citizens," she said. "We have a lot of privileges. We need to use them." 

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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