“Obviously, we had some problems election night,” said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County’s election administrator, on Tuesday.

Rutherford, looking refreshed after a general election in which it took three days to tally 70,295 votes, met with county commissioners to review what went wrong and ways to make improvements.

“I want to look at the whole thing from top to bottom,” Rutherford said.

And, it seemed everything was on the table -- from all-mail elections, more election staff and more polling places to traffic control at MetraPark.

“Whatever we need to do so no one leaves the polling place and says, ‘I can’t vote,’” said Commissioner Bill Kennedy, a Democrat who was re-elected to a fourth term.

Rutherford told commissioners he will prepare a report for the commission on what went wrong and will make recommendations for improvements.

Some of the problems can be fixed by the county, while others may require legislative changes, county officials said.

The Nov. 6 general election in Yellowstone County was marked by a crush of late registrations that triggered long lines at MetraPark’s Montana Pavilion, traffic jams at MetraPark, which was the polling place for all city voters who live within School District 2’s elementary school boundaries, and vote-counting machines that kept jamming on the folds in absentee ballots.

A record number of people in Yellowstone County voted absentee this year – approximately 56,000 voters, or 79 percent of the 70,295 ballots cast, used absentee ballots. Overall voter turnout in the county was about 73 percent.

Although many people registered to vote ahead of the election, some waited until Election Day.

“That big, long monster line was late registration,” Rutherford said.

Registering to vote takes 10 to 15 minutes and requires staff trained in the state’s computer voter registration program to complete the process, Rutherford said.

The county had six computer terminals, about double what it used in 2008, when it registered about 600 people on Election Day, he said. Last Tuesday, the county registered about 800 people at MetraPark, he said.

Rutherford said the county could train more people to register voters to make the line move faster.

Commission Chairman John Ostlund said there should be more public outreach to encourage early registration.

The state, Kennedy said, should consider going to an all-mail election like Oregon, where he said voter turnout is about 80 percent.

While Commissioner Jim Reno liked Kennedy’s all-mail election suggestion, he also criticized voters who registered late.

Noting the recent Veterans Day holiday and how veterans have fought and died for the right to vote, Reno said showing up late to register shows disrespect.

“You’d have to be under a rock” not to know there was a general election last Tuesday, he said.

“But that’s a person’s right to vote,” Kennedy responded.

The commissioners agreed that the election office was understaffed and needed a bigger budget to be able to hire more people during elections.

County officials also discussed ways to prevent ballots from jamming in the counting machines, which caused counting to drag on for three days.

Mailing flat ballots instead of folding them may be an option but would be expensive, Rutherford said. The county already pays the difference on absentee ballots mailed in with inadequate postage.

To speed election results, Kennedy suggested being able to start counting absentee ballots several days before Election Day instead starting the morning of Election Day. Early counting would require a change in state law.

Rutherford also said he had problems getting help from the vendor when the machines kept jamming on folds in the paper ballots. Officials considered hiring technical support to be present for vote-counting from start to finish.

Traffic jams in MetraPark’s lower lot caused another election night migraine.

Motorists had trouble finding parking spaces, and traffic backed up as vehicles tried to leave MetraPark by turning left onto the new Bench Boulevard connector to get to Sixth Avenue North.

“We failed on that,” Ostlund said.

Commissioners and Rutherford also said they would consider returning to more polling places around the city instead of consolidating them at MetraPark.

They also discussed having traffic leave MetraPark with a right turn only onto Bench Boulevard and better traffic control and coordination with MetraPark staff during peak times.

For all the problems, the commissioners praised Rutherford and his staff.

“You and your crew did a tremendous job,” Kennedy said. “We have a lot of glitches and bumps we have to fix,” he added.

Later Tuesday, Rutherford and his staff were back counting provisional ballots from the election to verify whether they will be included.

The canvassing of election results has been moved up from Nov. 20 to Friday at 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ board room. The canvass is to finalize the results and is open to the public.


Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.

(13) comments


If someone feels the civic duty to vote, I believe they should register BEFORE the election day! What was wrong with the previous time of deadline for registering?


simply stopping same day registration would help alot. but the idea of all mail in ballots is the best. and don't pay for any inadequate postage. you have to be old enough to vote that you should be old enough to know how much postage you need. it is time for people to take care of their own affairs. the county shouldn't have to baby them.


An yet, somehow, almost every other part of the state managed to get the votes counted in a timely manner. Hmmmmmm


Third world voting


Library at city college


AGREE WITH BEES: One of the first things a person should do when taking up residency is register to vote, it is a no brainer. Also, would like to add that this is 2012 and there is no reason voting could not be done on line. Adequate security could be implemented to ensure a secure vote. Just an idea.

billy banger
billy banger

Anything that reduces the vote should not be allowed. If they are not smart enough to know that folded ballots cause problems then we need new people. What about the other areas where they folded the ballots the opposite way and put a weight on the ballots to make they go thru the machines. Sending us large envelopes is not a solution. Unless the postage is free. They do need to be able to count votes before election day. Some people work and cannot get to a place to register in advance and the DMV registrations seemed to add to the problem.
I wish my vote would have counted buy alll candidates were taking offices by the time my vote was counted, what a sorry mess, no excuse.


billy said, "Some people work and cannot get to a place to register in advance...'

Priceless, billy! The idiots who couldn't get registered ahead of time probably aren't the hardest workers among us! What a joke.

And whining about postage... You want the convenience but are unwilling to pay for it. A few dollars postage is still less than the gas money it takes to drive to the polling place. You are a freeloader and typical of what is wrong with half the country.

Your vote did count. They didn't call any of the close races until they had counted enough votes. And in the other races... your vote was in the final count. But if you feel that your vote didn't count - go ahead and sit the next one out.

billy banger
billy banger

They called the races statewide days before these votes were counted.
I never voted for absentee ballots they were just shoved down our throats. I miss walking ot the local school to vote.
You show your ignorance calling anyone a freedloader and you are what is wrong with this country trying to block the vote, kike most loser republicans.
We do not have IQ tests for voters or you probably would not be allowed.


Guess what genius, your vote counted. If they had called the wrong winner it would be reversed.

Absentee ballots were not shoved down your throat, they are an option. It's an option that costs money and each individual should pay to use that option if they don't want to vote in person. And if you don't think people should pay a few $ postage to exercise that option, then you are encouraging freeloaders.

And how many years did we require people to be registered to vote ahead of election day? Were we "blocking" the vote all those years? Your comments are the epitome of ignorance. Sorry, that word probably went over your head - look it up.

You would never, never, never support an IQ test for voters. I happen to think that some sort of minimum level of proficiency in civics and knowledge of applicable current events should be a requirement for voting. It would weed out the idiot voter who votes based on what his/her Hollywood celebrity hero says.

Jus Wundrin
Jus Wundrin

bees is correct, get rid of election day registration. Make the deadline a week before. Simple.


Why are they allowed to register on election day? Most states you have to be registered 2 weeks before the election.


Absentee ballots was going to be used on a trial basis but Billings pretty much forced the voters to go this system by eliminating local precinct polling places, then they put them in the Metra. Most people who live on the West side do not like to travel across the city to vote; takes too much time & the lines were long. Definitely not convenient for the voter!

Absentee ballots get lost in the mail, people can take them out of mailboxes & destroy them, abusive spouses can force the other spouse to vote their way, no privacy when voting, people come door to door & asking the voter if they can pick up your ballot & they will deliver it to the election office (which means they can throw your ballot away if they know what your political affiliation is or what issue you are 'for or against', creased ballots get stuck in machines & etc. When voters went to their local polling precincts none of this happened. Integrity of the voting process & the ballot was protected! We want the polls!

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