Roberto Gutierrez personally drove his 18-year-old daughter Julia down to the MetraPark Montana Pavilion on Tuesday morning so she could register to vote for the first time.
It was a proud moment for a very proud father.
“I said, ‘You turned 18, you needed to register a long time ago,’” Gutierrez said. “It’s pretty amazing. Voting is important in our own family.”
Gutierrez’s brother-in-law is former elections administrator Duane Winslow, who rang the bell to open the polls at 7 a.m.
Winslow teased Roberto while he waited for his daughter vote.
“He tries to vote six or seven times,” Winslow said, laughing. “We need to get him out of here.”
Gutierrez couldn’t stay long. He had to get Julia to class on time at Skyview High School.
Unlike the majority of the county, including her father, Julia hopes to visit the polling place each time she votes.
“It’s better than just sitting at your house voting,” Julia said.
Of the 44,744 absentee ballots mailed out, 79 percent of them were returned, said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator.
Julia was lucky she was even able to register on Election Day. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Montana Legislature approved same-day registration and voting.
Voters who still want to register have until 8 p.m. Those who do will have a slightly longer wait than voters who have already registered.
“I think it’s important. If no-body votes, they can’t really complain about what people in office are doing,” Julia said. “If you want a say, you need to vote.”
A U-haul truck brought the 35,259 absentee ballots to the Metra Pavilion for counting.
Volunteers were showing up to their counting stations at around 8 a.m., ready to feed the ballots into the counting ma-chines by 9 a.m.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch was pleased by the turnout. She was at the Metra Pavilion polls Tuesday morning.
“That is an excellent thing,” McCulloch said. “Yellowstone County does a really good job of letting folks know you can get an absentee ballot.”
McCulloch said absentee bal-lot turnout is already 10 percent higher than in 2008.
She’s hoping to make things even more convenient for voters come January.
“I have a bill next session for vote by mail,” McCulloch said. “It seems to be working very well in Oregon. I can’t find anyone but to say they love it.”
Absentee ballots were sent out by Oct. 4 and were due Nov. 2, making it seem more like election season than just an election day.
“It’s like an election month,” McCulloch said. “Candidates have been doing that for the last few cycles.”
McCulloch is scheduled to be in Bozeman this afternoon and back to Helena by 4 p.m.
She’s planning on making stops at polls in smaller cities along the way.