LIBBY - Lincoln County has had to resort to hand counting all the ballots for the primary election because the ballots were cut too short and will not work in the automatic counting machines. This will delay the election results.
“This is a very, very tedious, monotonous process. It takes a lot of you know, concentration and focus. And I don't you know, I would rather take it slow and steady and be accurate 100% of the time rather than trying to push it and stretch it out until six o'clock in the morning and end up with shoddy results,” Lincoln County Elections Administrator Paula Buff said Wednesday.
The whole ballot snafu began when the ballots arrived a week late from the Couer D’Alene Printing Press, without a test deck. After retrieving the test deck, Buff cuts the test deck to the required 14” to run in the machine.
But when the absentee ballots arrived, they were a ¼" too short and would not run through the machines. After many tests and possible solutions, Buff and members from the Montana Secretary of State’s office decided that the best course of action would be to hand count all of the ballots.
Despite the complications, election officials say it comes down to the community.
"I kind of send out the Bat Signal at the last minute and, 'hey, who wants to count?' and you know, I mean, most of our, you know, election judges are elderly, but, you know, they have some serious stamina and staying power,” Buff said. “And, you know, some of them have more energy than me, I think."
The hope is that all ballots will be counted by Friday.
The results could make a difference in the close race for the Republican primary for the House District 1 seat. Unofficial results from the Montana Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday afternoon showed Ryan Zinke leading Al "Doc" Olszewski, by a 41%-to-40% margin with 79% of precincts reporting.
There were a total of five Republicans on the primary ballot for Montana’s western congressional district.