Mail-in Ballots Led to Better Turnout, Quicker Results

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS (AP) – Elections officials who used mail-in ballots Tuesday reported better turnout and quicker results.

“It was so good,” said Paulette DeHart, treasurer and clerk and recorder for Lewis and Clark County, of Helena’s largest mail ballot election.

About 8,600 residents voted — 61.5 percent of the registered electorate, and election workers were headed home by 8:30 p.m., DeHart said.

She supports running mail-in elections in the future.

“When the taxpayer dollars are spent to hold an election, and you can garner greater participation, it’s worth it,” DeHart said. “Whether the taxpayers vote or not, they’re paying for the election.”

In the city of Great Falls, where a traditional election was conducted, 28 percent of registered voters participated and the final vote count wasn’t tabulated until after 1 a.m.

Cascade County officials say they are considering mail ballots for future elections. Counties have had the option since 1985.

Several large communities — including Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, Havre, Fort Benton and Glasgow — gave mail ballot elections a try for the first time and officials had glowing reports.

In Havre, 2,089 votes were cast in the mail ballot election, for 54 percent turnout. The elections office was done counting votes 2½ hours sooner than usual.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” said Diane Mellem, Hill County clerk and recorder.

Mellem argues the Legislature should allow state and federal elections to be conducted by mail as well.

Under current law, only local elections can be conducted by mail. Voters are mailed ballots and must return them by Election Day.

Charlotte Mills, the clerk and recorder and elections administrator for Gallatin County, said mail-in elections give residents more time to study the issues at home, and she said counting can start much earlier.

DeHart said officials in Lewis and Clark County started counting the mailed-in ballots on Tuesday morning and had them counted by dinner time, leaving only walk-in votes to be counted.

Vickie Zeier, Missoula County’s clerk and recorder, credited the city’s first mail-in ballot election for tripling voter turnout to 45 percent.

Flathead County saw both regular and mail ballot elections. Turnout for the mail ballot in Whitefish was 47 percent while a regular election in Kalispell was 9 percent.

In East Helena, where a traditional election was held, just 48 votes were cast in one city council race, which resulted in a tie. Another city council race drew 56 votes.

Meanwhile in Ismay, voter turnout was 100 percent, said Marie Wehri, Custer County clerk and recorder.

“Ismay has six residents, and they all voted absentee,” she said.

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