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Bret Rutherford at MetraPark

Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford briefed election staff at MetraPark in this May 2017 file photo.

The June 5 voter turnout in Yellowstone County was the second highest in primary election history, Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford told county commissioners Tuesday.

In all, 41,628 voters of the nearly 95,000 who are registered to vote in Yellowstone County either mailed in or dropped off their ballot by the June 5 deadline, a participation rate of nearly 44 percent.

The largest primary turnout occurred June 7, 2016, when Yellowstone County voters selected presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to face off on the November ballot.

Nearly 40,000 voters used the mail-in option for the June 5 primary, Rutherford said, while 1,656 people — about 1.7 percent of those who cast a ballot — voted in person at MetraPark or at one of 13 other sites set up around the county.

With 814 people dropping off a ballot, MetraPark was the most popular vote-in-person site in Yellowstone County. Among the nearly 6,900 registered voters in Laurel, 206 used the in-person option. Shepherd was third for in-person Election Day voting, with 87 ballots received from among the 2,315 county residents registered to vote.

Rutherford told commissioners the high turnout can be at least partly attributed to House Bill 287, a 2017 bill passed by the Legislature providing that address confirmation is not required for an elector on the absentee ballot list for subsequent elections except for voters who have changed their address.

The new law “probably kept 15,000 people on our absentee list who would not have replied under the old system,” Rutherford said.

On Election Day, the busiest polling place turned out to be the Courthouse lobby. Rutherford said about 2,800 people voting absentee turned in their ballots there on June 5. Elections officials had advised voters not to mail in their ballots after Thursday, May 31.

While the accounting for the primary election is still being completed, Rutherford said about 100 workers were paid $120 each to staff the county’s polling places on Election Day, with polling place managers paid an additional $5,000 total. All told, staffing the polling places costs the county about $25,000 per election.

Typically, mail-in ballots cost the county about $1 each, while an in-person vote costs about $1.50 per ballot, he said.

Rutherford told commissioners he will meet with polling place managers soon to determine “if we can streamline (the polling process) so we don’t need as many people.”

On Election Day, several MetraPark voters picked up cards to sign up for an absentee ballot for the next election — the Nov. 6 midterm election.

“But there are still a lot of die-hards,” Rutherford said, “who want to pick up that ‘I voted’ sticker.”



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.