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Weather made voting tough in E. Montana into Election Day

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Curtiss edges Farrell
Curtiss edges Farrell

A rotary snowplow carried ballots through 25 miles of drifting snow from Plentywood to Westby in extreme northeastern Montana, finally delivering them Tuesday afternoon, seven hours after the polls were scheduled to open.

Sheridan County Clerk and Recorder Milt Hovland sent ballots for the 351 registered voters to Westby by snowplow at 8:30 a.m., but the ballots hadn't arrived by noon.

After consulting the secretary of state's office, Hovland was preparing to fax a sample ballot and the voter registration list to Westby, where they could be photocopied and used for the election. Just then, the snowplow finally made it through the storm to the polling place.

"We've had one actual voter so far," election judge Sandra Elm reported minutes later. "It's so bad not very many people can come in."

Back in Plentywood, Hovland was checking to see if state election law offered any relief for voters who couldn't vote because of the blizzard.

The law doesn't make any exceptions for bad weather, Secretary of State Mike Cooney said from Helena.

"You can't postpone an election," Cooney said. "The election is on Election Day. There is no provision in the law for extension of balloting. This is just a terrible situation."

"It's a disaster," Hovland said.

In fact, Sheridan County commissioners had declared a disaster on Monday, noting the effects of two early winter-like storms.

Power was restored to Westby, Dagmar and Plentywood by Tuesday. But rural residents were coping with a weeklong power outage that was expected to last for a couple more weeks as repair crews struggled to install hundreds of replacement power poles.

A foot of heavy, wet snow broke more than 500 power poles on Nov. 1. Several more inches of snow arrived Sunday and Monday along with high winds.

The bad weather appeared to be slowing voter turnout Tuesday morning in Glendive. After visiting five precincts around the city, Dawson County Clerk Maureen Lenhardt reported.

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