MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
A record number of Montanans are taking advantage of laws that allow anyone to vote absentee, setting up a large turnout this election season. The secretary of state's office said Monday that about 175,000 absentee ballots have been cast so far. That number will increase on Election Day, as those who register for same day voting will cast absentee ballots. The total number far surpasses the 119,000 absentee ballots case in 2006. Big interest in the presidential race, spurred by active campaigns in the state, and a full slate of statewide races is proving a big draw. Secretary of State Brad Johnson is predicting the turnout will at least equal the 70 percent seen in the 2004 presidential election. So far, more than 666,000 Montanans are registered to vote. That figure is expected to reach 670,000 by Election Day, said Bowen Greenwood, secretary of state spokesman. Long lines for same day voting were a problem in 2006, forcing some counties to keep voting open after polls closed to serve all those standing in line. The problem delayed some election results and stressed local election offices. Election officials are hopeful that the large numbers of early voters seen this year means that fewer will show up to register on Election Day. But they caution those registering Tuesday to prepare for the possibility of long lines. The secretary of state's office says things are going well so far this year, since election officials have more experience with the state's early and sameday voting laws. "It's going smoothly, and the clerks have nothing but good things to say about the way it is all being handled," Greenwood said. Part of the explanation for the big early vote numbers goes to the excitement over the presidential election. The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has been putting unprecedented resources into Montana, hoping to register new voters and drive big turnout numbers. Campaign volunteer Ann Danzer of Helena said the rare opportunity to get involved in such a campaign is exciting. Danzer has been spending evening and weekends on the Obama phone bank, persuading others to vote early. "It's always so wonderful to walk into this campaign office," Danzer said. "Everyone is just so excited for this election."