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Elections 2018

Voters wait in long lines to register and vote in the midterm elections at Montana Pavilion at MetraPark in Billings on Election Night.

Last week's midterm elections saw 69,925 people vote, the most ever for a midterm and the third highest turnout ever for an election in the county. 

Turnout this year was just large enough to surpass — by two votes — the total for the 2012 presidential elections, which saw 69,923 people vote. 

In fact, the only two elections that saw more Yellowstone County voters was the 2016 presidential election, which had 71,871 votes cast, and 2008 with 71,204 votes.

There are 83,905 active registered voters in Yellowstone County.

Bret Rutherford, the county's election chief, said a couple different factors likely helped with the high turnout — high interest and changes to absentee voting laws.

In the last legislature, lawmakers changed absentee voting rules to let voters stay on the rolls permanently unless they notified the U.S. Postal Service of a change in address. If they changed their address they would have to re-register to receive their ballot by mail. 

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In the past, every two years, residents who have chosen to receive their ballots by mail would have to re-register to vote absentee; cards were mailed out asking those voters to re-register. Rutherford said invariably his office would see a 20 percent drop-off in voter turnout at the next election; about 95 percent of county voters now vote by mail.

"Keeping people on the rolls makes a huge difference," Rutherford said. 

Traditionally, midterm elections don't pull in the same number of voters as presidential elections. For example, the 2014 midterms saw voter turnout hit 52,741. Turnout was slightly higher during the 2017 special election for U.S. House, totaling 54,066.

The highest turnout for a midterm election before this month was in 2006 when the county received 59,616 ballots.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.