County, State and Nation Break Turnout Records

More than 60,000 ballots were cast in Flathead County, the highest number ever

By Micah Drew
A crowd of voters forms a line inside the Flathead County Election Department on Nov. 3, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On Election Day, Flathead County elections officials processed around 5,000 ballots that were received in the mail, dropped off at locations around the valley or completed in person. Because the county only operated a single polling place at the elections office in Kalispell, in-person voters waited in line for up to three hours to cast their ballots. The final votes were cast just after 10 p.m., more than two hours after the polls in Montana had officially closed.

“I think we could have been a little more prepared for the onslaught we’re seeing today,” County Commissioner Phil Mitchell said on Election Day. “I wish it could go a little bit quicker, but I want everyone who wants to vote to vote.”

Flathead County had a 90% return rate for ballots that were mailed out, and with the additional in-person votes, the county capped off a record-breaking election. The state and nation followed similar record-setting patterns.

The final tabulation was completed Nov. 4, and the Secretary of State’s office reported final statewide results on Nov. 5.

Out of the 76,285 registered voters in Flathead County, 60,514 cast ballots in the 2020 general election, a registered voter turnout of 79.3%. The raw number exceeds the previous county record from 2016 by more than 12,000, or a 25% increase.

Flathead County’s registered voter turnout was the highest in any general election since 1992. The county record was set back in 1968 with 85.94% of registered voters casting ballots.

As a state, Montana closely mirrored Flathead County. Montanans increased registration by just over 8% compared to 2016, including more than 56,000 new voters registered between the 2020 primary election in June and the general election in November.

Statewide turnout was 80.91%, the highest since 1972, but fell short of the general election record turnout of 86.4% from 1968. Another way of viewing voter turnout is as a percentage of the voting eligible population, and by that metric the old record set in 1992 was broken.

Montana also was the third state nationwide where early votes exceeded the number of 2016 votes cast, with only Texas and Hawaii reaching that benchmark more quickly this year. The state surpassed the old benchmark of 516,901 the day before Election Day, and ended with a total of 608,885 ballots cast statewide.

Across America, votes are still being tallied in several states, but the nearly 144 million ballots cast far exceeds 2016 numbers. Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden received more votes than any presidential candidate in history.

According to data by the Washington Post, it’s projected that national turnout will be the highest since 1900.

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