Heavy turnout, lots of late voter registration and data issues meant some voters stood in line for hours at the Butte Civic Center on Tuesday. The problems even got Gov. Steve Bullock involved in trying to find solutions.
The heavy volume and snafus meant the county's election results would be delayed.
Sally Hollis, the county’s clerk and recorder, said she believed it was the busiest midterm election Butte-Silver Bow County has seen, with high voter turnout.
But many of these voters found themselves in the late registration line, waiting 30 minutes to over an hour to cast their ballots.
When Bullock found out about the long wait, he called Butte-Silver Bow County Attorney Eileen Joyce, as well as district court judges and "just about everybody" to speed things along, Hollis said.
As of 5:30 p.m., the late voter registration line was split into two. One line registered people to vote in Butte-Silver Bow and the other assisted people listed as absentee voters who either did not receive or fill out their ballots.
But some people did not fit neatly into these lines.
Krystin Mengon-Lee, a teacher at the Butte High Career Center, said three of her teaching colleagues were told they were on the absentee list even though they did not receive or request absentee ballots. The county had no voting record of Mengon-Lee's husband, she said, even though he's voted in every election as a Butte-Silver Bow resident. And one of her husband's friends, who is also politically active, was told he is registered at his college address in Dillon, she said.
Some of the reported problems made it all the way to an investigative nonprofit in New York City. ProPublica received two complaints from Butte — the only two in the state, as of Tuesday afternoon — through its Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country.
One complainant said county elections staff told a woman she was an absentee voter, but she says she never requested or received an absentee ballot. Another woman said she was required to re-register even though she’s voted in Butte-Silver Bow County before.
Both said “tons” of other people had similar problems, and some grew impatient and left the late voter registration line because it was so long.
Some people also said they had registered to vote online, but according to Hollis, voters can’t fully register that way. Forms filled out on the Internet still need to be mailed or physically turned into the county. Hollis said there seems to be some confusion with this online process.
Cathy Tutty, a poll observer and active Butte Democrat, also commented on the problems. She said most of the late registrants were filling out provisional ballots, which are the last votes to be processed at the end of the night.
Tutty said that’s because election officials must ensure the late registrants didn't already submit a vote through Butte-Silver Bow or another county.
"It doesn't affect the counting process so much, but it does affect whether people stick around to vote," Tutty said, referring to the whole late voter registration process.
Around 6 p.m., Hollis said election officials were way behind on processing votes, stating results would be in "sometime tonight, but I don't know when." At 10:40 p.m., she said all county results would be in around midnight.