Flathead County Ballot Counting ‘Moving Like Clockwork’

Local election officials counted 43,000 ballots by 6 p.m. on Election Night

By Maggie Dresser
Ballots are counted at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Nov. 3, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County had already counted 43,000 ballots as of 6 p.m. on Election Night at the county fairgrounds, according to Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator Debbie Pierson.

Since the Election Office was allowed to start processing ballots a day in advance this year, Pierson says that operations are running “incredibly smooth.”

“We have ample staff and support and a very systematic process,” Pierson said. “Right now, everything’s moving along like clockwork.”

After ballots are processed at the Election Office, they are sent to the fairgrounds where they are opened, prepped and counted using the county’s new DS850 vote tabulator machines, an upgrade from the DS650 that were used previously.

Although there’s debate among election officials over which machine is superior, Pierson says there are “miles of difference in capabilities” between the DS650 and the DS850.

While the ballot counting process was running smooth before 6 p.m. on Election Night, Pierson says this particular election is posing a different type of stress with a higher volume of ballots.

“We’re focused on managing here (at the fairgrounds),” Pierson said. “Normally I’d be concerned about all the polling stations and making sure all of the machines were working … it’s just a different dynamic, this is a mail-out election.”

Even though the adoption of all-mail ballots in Flathead County due to the pandemic reduced the need for in-person voting in 2020, Pierson says Flathead County will never permanently eliminate poll elections.

“It may look different in the future, but we will never eliminate them,” Pierson said.


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