Flathead County Continues Ballot Tabulation

Slow setup, machine problems led to no results reported for hours on election night; final tally expected later today

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

As of 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Flathead County has only counted 46,850 votes cast in this year’s general election, roughly 61% of the expected total, despite an earlier expectation that votes would be tabulated quickly on election day.

The high rate of ballots returned prior to Tuesday due to county conducting an all-mail election led election officials to postulate that results would be released within minutes of polls closing.

“It just took time getting away from the elections office and to the fairground [where counting took place], getting set up, getting the Wi-Fi working,” Flathead County Election Manager Monica Eisenzimer said just after noon on Nov. 4. “Then we wanted to verify that the numbers were accurate.”

Eisenzimer said that there were some problems aligning the number of ballots with the number shown by the counting machines, due to some county ballots having three pages and some having two pages. The machines show a count of pages scanned, which took extra time for election workers to align with ballot numbers.

Rumors that a ballot counting machine had stopped working were refuted, but Eisenzimer did note that the cameras were scanning ballots slower than anticipated.

“We don’t use the machines every day,” Eisenzimer said. “We do a test run, but we don’t do it with 60,000 ballots.”

While polls officially closed in Montana at 8 p.m., voters in line at that time were allowed to vote, and in Flathead County the final ballots in person were cast just after 10 p.m.

The Associated Press called Montana’s governor’s race for Republican Greg Gianforte at 10:41 p.m., before Flathead County had released any results.

Eisenzimer expects the election resolution board to finish tallying ballots within a few hours and the final vote update will be posted by mid afternoon.

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