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Long lines for late voter registration at Butte Civic Center

Brittney Tierney, 18, a Butte High School student and first-time voter waits in the voter registration line on Tuesday afternoon at the Butte Civic Center. 

Some voters found long lines and dealt with delays of up to two hours at the Butte Civic Center Tuesday night, but the issues they faced were not unique to Butte-Silver Bow, according to the Montana Secretary of State’s office of elections and government services.

Mark Carpenter, an elections specialist working for Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, said he and his colleagues received over 350 calls on Tuesday with registration complaints similar to those in Butte.

“That was just (calls) to our office, not including the calls fielded by the counties,” Carpenter said.

Many people Carpenter spoke with stated they hadn’t received their absentee ballot or they were wrongly placed on the absentee voter list.

Long late voter registration lines were also common in other counties, Carpenter said. Counties were instructed to close late registration at 8 p.m., only allowing those who joined the lines before then to vote. Some lines didn’t get through until 10 or 11 p.m., Carpenter said.

“There are always issues, but I ran across quite a few people who claimed they didn’t get their absentee ballots,” Carpenter said.

In Butte, some people admitted to misplacing their absentee ballots, but others insisted they never received one or did not sign up as an absentee voter.

Among those who encountered problems in Butte was Elizabeth Crase, the education director for the Orphan Girl Children's Theatre. 

According to Crase, when she and her husband reported to their precinct, election officials found her husband’s ballot but couldn’t find hers, even though he had voted at that same precinct in a recent election. Officials told Crase she must be on the absentee list and sent her to the late voter registration line.

After waiting about 30 minutes, Crase found she was not on the absentee list, but registered with a different precinct.

“My husband had no issues, of course, but I felt like I was sort of given the run around,” Crase said. “There was no explanation for why I was in a different precinct, but I was just happy to vote.”

Carpenter said he didn’t deal with issues like Crase's yesterday, but that the lost records may have stemmed from a typo or glitch in the electronic system.

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For example, Carpenter said the state’s "My Voter Page," where people can look up their voter registration status, doesn’t always pick up hyphenated names.

Regardless of what may have caused these issues, Carpenter encouraged voters to register early and directly with their county to help prevent problems.

“Don’t rely on other organizations to register for you,” Carpenter said. “Registering when you get your license at the DMV is usually reliable, but tables at events are usually not." 

Butte-Silver Bow County Clerk and Recorder Sally Hollis expressed similar thoughts, encouraging people to register and to vote early.

Hollis also said she didn't know what may have been responsible for issues like Crase's. However, she did say Butte was lucky to have its late voter registration done just after 8 p.m. and that she is happy with how Tuesday went, overall. 

"It was a great turnout," Hollis said. "I am proud of all the Butte people who stepped up to the plate and voted."  

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