As of Friday, 14,532 Billings residents had returned ballots to the Yellowstone County elections office for the city council primary elections. That's a 31% turnout so far.
"For a municipal primary, that's not bad," said Bret Rutherford, county elections administrator.
In all, 47,062 ballots were mailed out to Billings residents.
To be counted, those ballots must be completed and returned to the Yellowstone County elections office, Room 101 at 217 N. 27th St., by 8 p.m. on Tuesday. No polls will be open for the primary election.
Because it's now too late for the mail, completed ballots will have to be hand-delivered. New state law allows for voters to hand in their ballots in two ways. They can bring the ballots in to the elections office themselves or they can have a friend or family member drop them off.
If they choose to have a friend or family member do it, the person dropping off the ballots must sign a form when he or she gets to the elections office.
Another change to state law is anticipated to speed up the counting process.
The new law allows county elections offices to begin opening returned ballots three business days before election day and to begin counting them the day before election day.
In the past, mailed-in ballots couldn't be opened before Election Day and they couldn't be counted until polls closed at 8 p.m.
With the new law in place, election officials in Yellowstone County began opening ballots Friday and started their count Monday.
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"We're way ahead," Rutherford said. "We're just going to be waiting around for 8 o'clock."
It'll be a busy election. Four of the five city council wards have primaries; two of them have five candidates each running.
The busiest is Ward 4 with six candidates on the ballot, although only five are running in the race. Matthew Senn told the Gazette over the summer that he had pulled out of the race, which includes candidates Pam Purinton, Gordon Olson, Nicole Gallagher, Daron Olson and Carmelita Dominguez.
Of the 15,092 ballots mailed out to Ward 4 residents, 5,444 have been returned and accepted by the elections office — the most of any ward in the city. That's a 36% turnout in the ward so far.
Ward 5 has five candidates on the ballot. Running are Dennis Ulvestad, Mike Boyett, Fredrick Wilburn, Leilahni Kay and Jennifer Merecki. In all, 12,021 ballots were mailed out in Ward 5 and as of Friday; 3,813 have been returned and accepted by the elections office. That's a 32% turnout for the ward so far.
In Ward 2, the four candidates running include the election's only incumbent. Roy Neese was appointed to the council last year to fill the vacancy left when Larry Brewster resigned in November. Joining Neese in the race are Randy Heinz, Michael Richardson and Roger Gravgaard.
The elections offices mailed out 11,351 ballots in Ward 2. As of Friday, 2,988 had been returned and accepted — a 26% turnout so far.