Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Missoula County Reports Heavy Turnout

As Election Day wound to a close at the Missoula County elections office, Chief Deputy Clerk Debbie Merseal said none of the precincts had reported any major hiccups but that all saw a healthy turnout.

"There's been no problems," Merseal said. "It's just been very busy."

The office recieved around 28,000 absentee ballots, which they began counting this morning.

"That's higher than normal," Merseal said. "Two years ago we issued 12,000."

They had to wait until the polls had closed to begin issuing any results.

"If there are people still waiting in that line downstairs, we cannot release any results," Merseal said. "We've got to wait until we get the door closed behind everybody."

Around 9:20 p.m., they released preliminary results based on the absentee ballots.

The county set up its late-voter registration center a floor below in the courthouse's Motor Vehicle and Treasury department. The county decided to use the office to handle the expected crowed, taking advantage of the DMV's set up and take-a-number system. The office also served as a polling place. Last-minute registrees had to fill out a registration card and show an ID, then brave the wait for a chance to vote.

Residents packed the lobby throughout the day. Most stuck it out, though a few decided not to after learning they'd be sitting for upwards of two hours.

John Melendez of Boulder, Colo., forgot to file his absentee ballot in the mail and came to re-register. He filled out a card around 5:15 p.m. and waited for 20 minutes but decided to scrap the attempt when he realized the two-hour delay was no exaggeration.

"What I really wanted was one of those (I Voted) stickers," Melendez said with a laugh. "I think I'm going to just grab one anyway and call it good."

Volunteer Kim Seeberger said the center was overflowing since 8 a.m., with at least an hour wait for most of the day.

"Before the doors opened this morning, the room was packed," Seeberger said. "Then we had a lull but around the lunch hour it hit and it never stopped."

As the polls closed at 8 p.m., dozens of people still milled around the halls, waiting to vote. At 8:45, registration worker Josie Van Deventer filed the last ballot.

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