The Spectacle Blog

Rocky Montana

By on 11.8.06 | 5:59PM

Wonder why the nation was kept waiting into Wednesday to learn which party may be dominant in the United States Senate? The state of gold and silver: Montana. And lord only knows if the result is knowable even now!

Yellowstone County, Billings and environs, is the state's most populous, and the County Election Administrator, Duane Winslow, says a new software program fooled him. Absentee ballots are to be counted first -- about 20,000 for the county. After these were tabulated, Winslow says he was supposed to hit a "zero out" button on the three electronic counting machines to clear the way for tabulating the regular ballots. He is quoted as saying he thinks he hit the button on one machine but may have neglected the other two.

"It's just a mistake I made," he says.

About 12:40 a. m. Mountain Time, Winslow figured the hell with it, no telling how many absentee ballots may have been counted twice, along with the regular ballots, so he decided to do a complete recount! What staff was left in the courthouse would probably be there until dawn, leading to the perplexed faces on all those anchors in the East.

Compounding the Montana dilemma is a new state law that allows election-day registration. This led to long lines of registrant-voters waiting long after the 8 p.m. closing time. (The last ballot was cast in Gallatin County at 11:55 p m.) The statewide database of voters had a technical glitch that prevented two counties from registering new voters for about an hour. The solution: provisional ballots.

Add to the new same-day registration wrinkle and the absentee surge the need to feed some computer cards into the system by hand because of a glitch in automation and you get an idea of why the Treasure State was late in electing a U.S. Senator.

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