The voting machine that malfunctioned and delayed final tallies in Tuesday’s primary in Butte-Silver Bow was on loan and not a brand-new $110,000 machine the county just purchased, an official said Thursday.
But voter mistakes also slowed counting Tuesday night, said Sally Hollis, the county’s clerk and recorder.
At least 50 ballots cast on Election Day had votes marked for more than one candidate in a race, Hollis said, and some people submitted ballots for two or more parties when they can only vote in one.
Multiple ballots from one voter are not counted, but when there are markings for more than one candidate in a race, members of “resolution boards” at the Civic Center must determine if there is clear intent for one or the other.
“That takes time,” Hollis said.
County officials here typically have final tallies done on election nights between 9:30 p.m. and shortly after 10 p.m., but they weren’t ready Tuesday night until about 11:15 p.m.
Polls close at 8 p.m., and Hollis likes to have final numbers before downloading them to the Montana Secretary of State’s office website, which posts the results online.
Some counties download partial results to the state, but Hollis said she wants final numbers to make sure results are posted correctly.
If judges stop and pull a flash-drive from a voting machine to download partial results and then fail to put the drive back into the correct machine, it can lead to wrong vote totals at the end of the night.
Butte-Silver Bow recently purchased a new top-of-the-line voting machine from Election Systems & Software, a company based in Omaha, Nebraska, that provides voting equipment and services to many cities and states. The company also lent the county an additional machine to get through election night.
The county had numerous older machines that tabulated votes at the Civic Center on election nights. They were efficient and accurate, Hollis said, but were 10 years old and started having problems.
Hollis said the new machine was used to count the thousands of absentee ballots cast in the primary and the “loaner” was used to tabulate ballots cast that day.
The new machine “worked beautifully,” Hollis said, but the one on loan stopped working for a while.
Because it was hot in the Civic Center, technicians soon determined, oils from fingers and hands built up on the machine’s touch screen and caused problems. When the screens were cleaned, they worked fine again.
Hollis has requested money in the next county budget to buy an additional new machine, and if commissioners OK the purchase, it would be here in time for the Nov. 6 general election. The new one works great and should last for years, she said, but two are needed for the job on election nights.
Hollis says voters should remember that they can only cast one ballot in the primary and if they mark one candidate and change their mind, they should ask for another ballot instead of scratching one out or making other marks.
In the general election, she reminds people to vote for only one candidate per race and encourages them to vote early.
If you have an absentee ballot, she said, get them in sooner, and if you don’t want to be on the absentee list, call her office at 406-497-6342 or 497-6344 to be taken off.
For the primary, 9,800 absentee ballots were sent out, but only 6,342 came back, Hollis said.