Gallatin County will have a third ballot counter in time for the November election, allowing more complete results to be released sooner.

The new ballot tabulator costs about $83,700, which is less than the $103,000 the county initially anticipated because the machine is refurbished and the county will receive credit for trading in old voting equipment. The price tag may come down further depending on whether the county receives a grant from the Montana Secretary of State.

“In my opinion, the refurbished tabulator might be better than a new machine because it’s been through the tabulation process before,” election manager Casey Hayes said. “In my experience, it’s the new machines that run into issues their first time because the machines often need belts tightened or other adjustments.”

The county will now have three tabulators, bringing it in line with Missoula and Yellowstone counties.

Gallatin County has often had issues counting ballots because when a tabulator broke down and required maintenance, there was only one working tabulator. In 2018, it took more than 30 hours for Gallatin County to process ballots using its two vote-counting machines.

“This will make the process more efficient,” Hayes said. “It is also a need because we have a growing number of voters.”

A new law also will improve the efficiency of ballot counting. The law allows election departments to remove ballots from their envelopes three days before an election — two days sooner than previously allowed — and permits counties to start counting ballots a day before the election instead of once polls open.

The Gallatin County Commission has given preliminary approval to the election department to buy the tabulator and will finalize its decision at a meeting Tuesday.

“Go forth and tabulate,” Commissioner Joe Skinner said.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

Perrin Stein is the county, state and federal government reporter for the Chronicle.

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