Friday, November 9, 2012

Ballot snafus stop machines, delay results

Final voting results reported at 8 a.m. Wednesday


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Delays related to absentee ballots and high turnouts plagued the Blaine County Elections Office on Tuesday night, causing the first results to be released around 2 a.m. and the final results in the not-so-early morning hours.

More than 87 percent of registered Blaine County voters turned out for the elections, casting a total of 10,351 ballots. Blaine County Deputy County Clerk Leslie Londos said that this was an unusually high turnout, even for a presidential election. Nearly 36 percent of those ballots, 3,712 total, were either mail-in or in-person absentee ballots.

County Clerk JoLynn Drage said early Wednesday morning that this year’s counting was the most difficult she had ever seen, mainly due to the fact that the absentee ballots—which are folded and put into envelopes—had not been opened and weighed down in time to press out the creases. That affected the ability of the counting machine to process them.

“The machine stopped every third piece of paper,” Drage said, adding that 3,712 two-page ballots meant more than 7,400 pieces of folded paper that needed to be counted.

Londos said folds in the absentee ballots always jam the ballot-counting machines, but problems were exacerbated by the fact that ballots were two pages this year.

“Because we had two pages, we had double the problems,” she said. “Those folded ballots, they just jam a lot.”

This mechanical issue delayed reporting results of absentee ballots until 1:40 a.m. Wednesday, and regular ballots could only be counted after the absentee results were in.

Regular ballot results were delayed as well, coming in at 7:57 a.m. Londos said the delay was due in part to the unusual number of potential write-in candidates on the ballot for president, U.S. representative in the 2nd Congressional District and for Blaine County sheriff.

Londos said that when the machine senses that the oval for a write-in candidate is colored in on a ballot, it stops counting so election workers can tally the names.

There were no valid write-in votes for president or U.S. House of Representatives, but Londos said a number of invalid write-ins stopped the process.

Blaine County sheriff write-in candidate Larry Clark received 457 votes—which means the ballot-counting machines stopped 457 times so those votes could be counted.


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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