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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Absentee Voting Surges Ahead Of 2010 Numbers In Most Counties

Montana's election administrators are asking lawmakers to allow them to open and begin counting absentee ballots earlier because the number of mailed-in ballots continues to increase.

Early voter turnout looks good -- especially for a midterm election year.

Turnout tends to dip in years without a presidential election, but the absentee voting numbers are already looking higher in Montana’s largest counties than they were in 2010.

“Every election, the number of absentees continue to grow,” said Lewis and Clark County election administrator Paulette DeHart.

Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Yellowstone counties all sent out more absentee ballots than they did in 2010, and many have most of their ballots returned already. A Lee newspaper story this week said 60 percent of Montana voters that signed up to vote absentee had already returned their ballots.

DeHart said her office had accepted more than 11,000 ballots by Friday, and she expected more to come. In 2010, the county had 10,360 voters turn in absentee ballots.

Missoula County has accepted 19,039 of the more than 30,000 absentee ballots it issued. Like Lewis and Clark County, that’s already surpassed the number of absentee ballots returned in 2010.

Gallatin County has accepted more than 18,000 ballots – up from 17,750 in 2010 – and election administrator Charlotte Mills said more voters were lined up out the door to pick up their ballots at her office on Friday.

In Yellowstone County, just less than 38,000 ballots were turned in by Friday, not far from the 39,613 the county received in 2010. Election administrator Bret Rutherford said that number was what he expected.

“We vote heavily by absentee down here,” Rutherford said. There are 51,980 absentee voters total in the county, which is up from 44,664 in 2010.

Cascade County has received 14,400 ballots, and election administrator Rina Moore expects that number to jump by Monday. Her office sent out 3,000 more ballots this year than they did in 2010.

University of Montana political science professor Jeff Greene said increased early voting may be a good sign for Democrats.

“Almost anything that makes voting easier helps Democrats,” Greene said.

Although counties are reporting a major surge in absentees compared to the last midterm election, none of the counties sent out as many ballots as they did in 2012, when the last presidential election took place.

Missoula County election administrator Rebecca Connors is happy to see so many ballots coming in because it may mean she won’t have to stay up until 7 a.m. counting votes, although she cautions with a laugh that it still “might be 4 a.m.”

--By MICHAEL WRIGHT
UM School of Journalism

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