Pull back the curtain on the Montana secretary of state’s online election results, and you’ll find a small army of volunteers counting votes by hand. Yes, most of the state’s counties have technology do the work, and Missoula County has had help from machines since the 1970s, according to the elections administrator. But 12 of the smallest counties in Montana will count their ballots by hand on Tuesday night. “Imagine that,” said Meagher Clerk and Recorder Dayna Ogle. Meagher judges were counting by hand in 2008 during the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Jon Tester and Conrad Burns, and the central Montana county with a population of 1,800 was getting calls for results from national media. But the judges could only count so fast.
Ogle, appointed in 2009, said she looked into buying a counting machine for the county when she first took the job, but her county commissioners weren’t keen on spending the money. Instead, she came up with a smooth procedure for counting by hand, and the county has been turning in results to the secretary of state around 10 p.m. on election night. Since the population is small, just 1,891 residents, and the number of voters may be 700 with a good turnout, she isn’t missing an electronic counter anymore. “If we were here past midnight counting and I’m trying to stuff caffeine down the counting judges to keep them awake, then I would think differently,” Ogle said.
Terri McCoy, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said the state doesn’t have deadlines by which counties must turn in results. “But the law does say they have to count their ballots until everything is counted,” she said.