Local Voters Wait Hours to Register, Cast In-Person Ballots

Majority of county residents voted by mail, but those who needed to register, change addresses or wanted to cast ballots in person had wait times

By Micah Drew
Voters from a long line extending around the block outside the Flathead County Election Department on Nov. 3, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Braly Whisler and Molly Mornhinweg of Whitefish drove down to Kalispell to fill out their voter registration forms and found a line snaking out of the Flathead County Election Office, down 11th Street, around the corner and down Main Street.

They reached the end of the line at 1:33 p.m., and by 2:45, they had moved approximately 100 meters. Once they turned the corner onto 11th, Whisler made use of chairs that the Flathead GOP had placed along the line.

“What do you think Braly, should we try to get food?” Mornhinweg asked. “Do you think if I leave and come back and Braly’s inside, they’ll let me back in line?”

The two opted not to risk leaving, instead hoping that rumors of the Flathead GOP ordering pizzas for voters were true.

Whisler had originally planned on quickly coming to Kalispell to switch her voter registration from Washington to Montana, casting her ballot and then running some errands during the afternoon. She quickly scrapped the notion that any errands would get done.

“After this, it’s taco Tuesday, so we’re going to just go home and make margaritas,” Whisler said. “I figure we’re not going to know results for a while, so I don’t know if we’ll stay up tonight.”

At 3:18, the duo passed the doors of the elections office, and by 3:50 they had climbed the flight of stairs to the second story where county elections staff were registering voters, herding residents into polling booths and calling on ballots that were missing signatures.

“I wish it would go a little bit quicker,” Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell said from inside the elections office where he was tracking down undeliverable ballots for voters. “I think we had a scare this morning that we weren’t keeping up, but we brought in more people and we’re doing well I think. Today’s gone very well and I’ll be glad when it’s over.”

The line to register and vote in person had remained roughly the same size since it formed around 8 a.m. Election watchers estimate that they were processing at least 70 people an hour, and an equal number of voters were utilizing the drive-up ballot drop box.

Inside the elections office, workers were calling voters to rectify ballots missing signatures, verifying ballots received in the mail and getting ready to transport trays of ballots to the Flathead County Fairgrounds, where two counting machines have been running since Monday morning. By mid afternoon, every ballot the county had marked as undeliverable had been picked up, filled out and processed, almost entirely by grateful voters.

However, while most interactions between elections staff and voters were amicable, a handful throughout the day were contentious.

“They just get ugly with us sometimes, like they think we’re crooked,” one worker said. “It’s a small county — we try to be as transparent as possible.”

Mary Jo Marceau-Hawthorne, a Columbia Falls voter, came in requesting that she see in person the signature the county had on file for her so she could make sure that only the ballot she was handing over was matched up. She was shown the computer screen and was mollified, albeit still unhappy that the remaining voters in the county weren’t able to do the same.

At 4:18, Whisler and Mornhinweg had completed the “super easy” task of filling out their registration forms while in line and were next to enter the voting booth.

Three hours after getting in line, the duo exited the elections office at 4:38, voter stickers proudly displayed.

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