Vote 2006: What's Next in Montana?

The Democrats have won the House, but the Senate remains up for grabs as hotly contested races in Virginia and Montana are too close to call. And in Montana, election results may not come for some time because of problems with the voting equipment.

In Yellowstone County, the largest county in Montana, election officials said that they were recounting all the votes because of problems caused by unfamiliar new equipment. Democrats have to win both Virginia and Montana to gain control of the Senate. If the Republicans win Montana, then they will retain their majority in the Senate.

Here are some key questions -- and answers -- for you as we await the election results from Montana.

Why have Montana's vote results taken so long to come in compared with results from other states?

"Yellowstone County is counting their ballots again. They encountered some difficulty operating their vote-counting machine, and as a result, they are counting their ballots again," said Bowen Greenwood, press representative for Montana secretary of state's office.

This is not the same as a recount, Greenwood said. A recount is a formal term defined by law as a count that takes place after the first count has been certified. The count in Yellowstone County was never completed, let alone certified, so it's not yet time for a recount. If there is to be a recount, it would happen after the count has been certified.

What triggers a recount?

If a statewide candidate wins by less than .25 percent (one-fourth of 1 percent) of the total votes cast for that position and that candidate files a petition with the secretary of state's office within five days after the official canvas.

If the board of canvassers calls for a recount. If during the canvas the board finds an error (in any one precinct or precincts) affecting the accuracy of vote totals, the board may immediately petition for a recount of the votes cast in that precinct or precincts, or for an inspection of ballots.

If there is a tie vote.

If a statewide candidate wins by more than .25 percent and less than .5 percent and files a petition with the secretary of state's office, and posts a bond with the local county clerk and recorder sufficient to pay for the recount.

If an unsuccessful statewide candidate applies to the district court in which the candidate resides within five days after the official canvas, and in that application specifies the grounds for a recount, and the judge finds that there is probable cause to believe votes may have been miscounted, the court can order a recount.

What are the actual steps of an election?

Polls close at 8 p.m.

Absentee ballots may be counted during the day by a specially appointed absentee counting board.

Counties count their ballots

Counties have an official canvass by their board of canvassers. This must happen within three to seven days after the election. (It usually happens with in three days.)

Counties send their results to the secretary of state.

The secretary of state opens the results from all counties and audits them.

The state board of canvassers certifies the count. This must happen within 20 days after the election.

Petitions for recounts must be filed within five days after this state canvass.

What is the Board of Canvassers?

Each county in Montana has a board of canvassers. It is made up of the county's governing body, the elected county commissioners.

The state also has a board of canvassers. It's made up of the state auditor, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction, with the secretary of state as secretary of the board.

What is a counting board?

Each county has a counting board, appointed by the county commissioners and usually made up of the County Election administrator and/or county employees. These are the folks who physically count the ballots in their respective counties.

What is the official canvas?

Once the counting board counts the ballots, it gives them to the county board of canvassers, which conducts an official canvass of the votes in that county, and pass that result on to the secretary of state.

The secretary of state gives the canvasses from all counties to the state board of canvassers, which conducts the official canvass for statewide or multicounty elections.

Who pays for a recount?

If the losing candidate loses by less than .25 percent, each recounting county pays for its own recounting, and the secretary of state and the board of canvassers pay for their own expenses related to the recount.

If the losing candidate loses by more than .25 but less than .5 percent, the candidate must post a bond for the expenses of the recount. If the recount shows he won, the government pays as above. If the recount shows the candidate lost, the candidates bond pays for the expenses.

If the court orders a recount, the candidate who applied for the court order must deposit with the recount board sufficient cash to cover the expense of the recount. If the recount shows the candidate won, the candidates deposit will be returned. If the recount does not change the result, the candidate's deposit will pay for the expenses of the recount.

When was the last recount?

In the 2000 primary for the Democratic nomination for superintendent of public instruction.

What about manual recounts vs. machine recounts?

Montana law specifies that all recounts of paper ballots be manual. Montana law also specifies that paper ballots are required. So all recounts are manual.

Who does the counting?

Ballots are first counted by a county counting board, usually made up of county election administrators or employees, by hand or using machines, depending on the laws and regulations of the county. When that count is completed, the returns are sent to the board of county canvassers, which is made up of the elected county commissioners for that county.

The board of canvassers canvasses the returns if they are all in. The actual canvass of the votes is public. The county board of canvassers certifies the results to the state board of canvassers. The state board of canvassers is made up of the state auditor, the attorney general and the superintendent of public instruction. The secretary of state serves as secretary of the board. The actual canvass of the votes is public. Within 20 days after the election, the state board of canvassers canvasses the votes from all counties and declares a winner. The governor issues a certificate of election to the victor.

Who certifies the vote total?

The board of canvassers. It declares the individual who has the highest number of votes as the victor. It reports the results of the official canvas and delivers a certified copy of that report to the governor.

What voting equipment does Montana use?

Montana optical scan machines and hand-counted paper ballots.

Montana does not use electronic-voting machines.

Training for poll workers varies from county to county: In almost all cases counties conduct test dry runs before the election to make sure there are no problems.

Voting systems in Montana must use a paper ballot that allows votes to be manually counted.

Who needs identification to vote?

All voters. To receive a ballot at the polls, a voter must present photo or nonphoto identification.

Acceptable forms of ID include any current photo ID that shows a voter's name (for example, a valid driver's license, school ID, state ID, or tribal ID), a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, voter confirmation notice, government check or other government document that shows the voter's name and current address.

On Absentee and Early Voting

Montana allows no-excuse absentee voting by mail.

Montana allows no-excuse absentee voting in-person.

It begins 30 days before the general election.

Ballots can be counted before polls close if poll workers are in sealed rooms and are sequestered so that results are not leaked.

Any absentee ballot received by the end of election day is counted like any other ballot.

Counting Standard Votes

Standard votes are counted starting when the polls close at 7 p.m. local time.

Votes counted in a specific room, certain types of vote-counting machines, results reported to SOS, certified number counted.

Are there paper printouts? Yes, there is a paper ballot trail.

Provisional Ballots

Provisional ballots are counted if they cast in correct precinct.

If you show up without an ID, you can still cast a provisional ballot but must come back to polling place/county courthouse with ID sometime in the next 48 hours in order for the ballot to count.

A provisional ballot cast by an elector whose voter information is verified before 5 p.m. on the day after the election must be removed from its provisional envelope, grouped with other ballots in a manner that allows for the secrecy of the ballot to the greatest extent possible, and counted as any other ballot.