Election Day 2020 was an impressive turnout for Missoula County!
Missoula County has 91,080 registered voters, and 72,632 of them cast ballots in the Nov. 3 general election. This equates to a 79.74% voter turnout and a ballot return rate of 90.84%. This is an impressive jump from the 2016 general election, when 60,088 ballots were cast by 81,579 registered voters, resulting in a 73.66% voter turnout, with 71% of ballots returned by mail.
For the safety and health of our Missoula community, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners approved an all-mail election that was allowed under Gov. Bullock’s directive. Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman and his team incorporated best practices from the all-mail June primary election and set up an efficient work plan to make Election Day a success.
As early as Sept. 23, staff, election judges and election aides were hard at work preparing. The Elections Center opened for early voting on Oct. 2 and then on Oct. 9, absentee ballots and the “I Voted” sticker mailed to over 79,000 active registered voters. Once the Elections Office drive-thru ballot drop-off opened the week of Oct. 12, a steady stream of vehicles hummed through the parking lot to deliver ballots. On Election Day eve, an estimated 82.4% of ballots had already been returned.
The morning started early on Election Day, with the first person in line around 5:15 a.m. The line held a steady pace throughout the day as it ebbed and flowed between 200-250 people until 8 p.m., with an average wait time of 1.5-2 hours. Those waiting were mostly there for same-day registration, change of address or to register to vote in Missoula County (new, precinct to precinct or county to county). Thanks to coordinated efforts with ASUM, the Election Day shuttle ran every 15 minutes from McCormick Park to help everyone conveniently access the Election Center with ease.
Citizens delivered pizzas, and a snack table also appeared, full of energy bars and water to keep people satisfied while they waited. A solo guitarist played to pass the time, while another voter pulled along their wireless speaker on a cart, booming their beats. Children joined their parents and were enamored by the appearance of Super Voter and our helpful sheriff’s deputies. When the last person exited the Elections Center around 10:15 p.m., staff had served over 1,150 voters, of which 328 are new voters in Missoula County’s system.
Eleven ballot drop-off locations were also busy throughout the county. Each station had a group of about five friendly workers accepting ballots and were stationed throughout Missoula and all the way out in Lolo, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake. These locations were a quick and easy way to vote and helped reduce the congestion in the Elections Center parking lot. All ballot drop-off locations, even as far away as Seeley Lake, had their final batch of ballots delivered to the center by 9 p.m. for signature verification and processing.
At the fairgrounds across town, the counting center buzzed with ballots delivered from the Elections Center. Montana law allowed counting to begin on Monday, Nov. 2, and the team worked hard until about 11 p.m. on Election Day. New to this general election was the ability for anyone to watch the process via the YouTube live stream, which captured both days of counting.
The 45-member team consisted of five DS-850 high speed tabulator operators who received ballots from the five tabulator runners. If a ballot was sorted by the tabulator for review, the runners also carried ballots to the resolution and write-in boards for evaluation. The 15-member resolution board reviewed ballots to determine voter intent using the Secretary of State materials provided in the election judge handbook. Additionally, a 15-member board was designated to validate and tally ballots with write-in candidates. They also assisted the resolution board. Once processed and counted, two ballot sealers placed the counted ballots in ballot style containers.
One individual was responsible for operating the Balotar machine, which was used when the resolution board determined a ballot must be duplicated for a reason, such as a torn ballot.
On Friday, Nov. 13, the county Audit Board met to complete the post-election audit. In Montana, after each federal election, the Secretary of State’s office will randomly select precincts that must be hand counted by the county and compared to machine totals to ensure that the equipment worked correctly. Missoula County completed a successful audit of precincts Chief90, Clinton92 and Evaro94. This is done in addition to the public testing on and before Election Day to ensure that all equipment functioned properly on Election Day.
Missoula County verified and finalized the election results at the canvass on Tuesday, Nov. 17, when Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman, Missoula County Auditor Dave Wall and Missoula County Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick accounted for every ballot cast and ensured that each valid vote was included in the official results. This included absentee, early voting, Election Day, provisional, challenged, and uniformed and overseas citizen ballots. The canvass provides the space for resolution of any discrepancies to ensure completeness and accuracy before certifying the election.
Election Day couldn’t have happened without the team of five full-time elections staff, who led 284 extra workers who worked a total of 1,340 eight-hour days, – or a total of 453 extra day shifts – between Sept. 23 – Nov. 3.
Thank you to everyone who played a part in ensuring the integrity of the election in Missoula County.