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Record turnout expected for Billings off-year election

Hundreds turn in ballots at election office Monday
Ballot box
Posted at 5:24 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 19:24:58-04

BILLINGS — Tuesday marks one of the biggest off-year Election Days in recent Yellowstone County history, with five city council seats contested, a $7.1 million public safety mill levy, and several initiatives surrounding the January 1st implementation of recreational marijuana sales. It made the county elections office one of the busiest places in the city Monday.

"I’m just a procrastinator," 24-year-old Hanna Anderson laughed when asked why she was turning in her ballot in person, "but I'm glad I got it done."

Anderson and her brother walked into the office just before 12:00 p.m. and filled out their ballots on the spot.

"It was a breeze," she said. "We expected there to be a long line, but we just walked right in.”

Ballot box side
Hundreds dropped off ballots in person at the Yellowstone County elections office Monday, 24 hours before Election Day in Billings.

Anderson has voted in the county before, so she was already registered. Another young woman wasn’t so lucky. She came in 10 minutes after noon and was not allowed to vote because of House Bill 176, a law Governor Greg Gianforte signed this past April prohibiting Election Day registration.

That hasn’t put a damper on this year’s numbers though.

"We have a little over 42,000 ballots now. There's been a steady stream of people all day, which is good," Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County Elections Administrator, said. "We'll probably get 45,000-50,000 by the end."

Rutherford expects it to be an off-year record, by both total ballots and percentage of eligible voters, because of people like Anderson who is an atypical non-presidential year voter.

"It's usually the people that vote in every election," Rutherford said. "Others usually only vote when the President is on ballot, which is unfortunate because all politics are local and that’s where it starts."

"When you’re living in your town, what’s going on around you is very important," Anderson echoed.

Ballot counting
The Yellowstone County Elections Office begins counting ballots Monday in advance of Tuesday's 8:00 p.m. voting deadline.

Rutherford’s staff has already begun tabulating - larger cities are allowed to start the day before in Montana - and he says we should know results by tomorrow’s deadline.

"We should have really good numbers by 8:00 p.m.," Rutherford said. "Barring a statistical tie in one of the races or the levies, people should know what’s going on."