BILLINGS — Voting lines in Yellowstone County were packed at the Montana Pavilion for a majority of Election Day, and that surprised Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford, who thought the extended late registration deadline would quell wait times at the polls.
“It was kind of amazing how many people actually did late registration on Election Day, because the close of registration was extended out three weeks beyond its normal deadline. So, I was really surprised at how many people actually weren’t registered or had moved from county to county or precinct to precinct," Rutherford said Wednesday morning.
Some people in line waited for five hours to cast their vote.
The Montana Pavilion on the MetraPark campus was the only place in the county where people could either register to vote or get a replacement ballot on Election Day. Rutherford said many people also stood in line to get their mail ballot switched to one obtained at the polls. A step Rutherford said was unnecessary.
"We had quite a few people who just disregarded their mail ballot and went down and got a replacement, too. Even though really, our office was meant for people whose dog ate the ballot or you needed to register, not just another option to vote," Rutherford said.
Plenty of people dropped off their already-filled out mail ballot to the Metra in person. Those people could skip the line and head straight to the ballot box.
Elections staff stopped people from getting in line at 8 p.m. election night. A Rocky Mountain College freshman, Kody Landon, was the last person in line, slipping in just in the nick of time at 7:59 p.m. Landon cast his first-ever vote after switching his registration from California to Montana.
"I feel special right now. I wasn't really expecting this. I thought I wasn't going to make it or they would close the gates right before I got in. I got here, I ran through the gates right at 7:59, I think. And they closed the gates right after I got in," Landon said.
Landon left the Montana Pavilion around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials stopped counting ballots at 11 p.m. election night and resumed at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Rutherford said the vast majority of mail ballots were already counted by election night. The ballots counted Wednesday were made up of those that were either voted or dropped off at the Montana Pavilion.
Unofficial Yellowstone County election results show a voter turnout of 75 percent, with 78,371 ballots cast of the 104,277 registered voters.
Ballots with missing or mismatched signatures, also known as provisional ballots, had until 5 p.m. to be rectified. Rutherford said provisional ballots will be added to the county's total on Monday at 3 p.m.
To view initial results from the election in Yellowstone County, visit the Secretary of State's website by clicking here.