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In Butte, One Election Volunteer Does It For The Love

Voters line up inside the Butte Civic Center to cast their vote in the last few hours before the polls close. Nov. 03, 2020.
Nora Saks
Voters line up inside the Butte Civic Center to cast their vote in the last few hours before the polls close. Nov. 03, 2020.

Even with the option to vote by mail this year, voters in Butte-Silver Bow county, and across the state are showing up in droves to drop off their ballots at polling locations.

MTPR's Nora Saks spoke with Rich Henningsen, a long time volunteer with the Butte Silver Bow county Clerk and Recorder’s office, about what election day has been like so far at the Civic Center.

Nora Saks: So tell me a little bit about your role.

Rich Henningsen: Well, I’ve done everything. In the 16 years, I’ve opened ballots, helped them sort ballots, helped them wrap ballots, and then helped them count ballots, basically.

Nora Saks: And is this just a volunteer thing right around the election? How big of a job is this? 

Rich Henningsen: Well it’s right around the election, but it lasts for like two weeks depending on how bad the election is. And I guess I shouldn’t say volunteer. We do get paid a little bit.

Nora Saks: What do you like about volunteering with the elections? 

Rich Henningsen: Just the people, just the interaction with the people. And they love to come down here to the civic center. Even if — like, we’ve been mail out this year — they could have mailed their ballots, they love to bring them down here. 

Nora Saks: I was wondering why so many people are showing up in person when they had the option - but that’s what you think is - they love it?

Rich Henningsen: They just really want to do that. Here about 5 years ago, 6 years ago, we switched from where they’d vote in their different precincts, and we did it all in the civic center. First year they didn’t like it. Second time we did it, this was the greatest thing in the world.

Nora Saks: Just because it feels more communal or something? 

Rich Henningsen: Yeah, kinda like.

Nora Saks: And so obviously we’re dealing with Covid-19 this year. How has that changed the protocol?

Rich Henningsen: Well, you see what we’re doing. Masks and taking temperatures and so forth. We gotta do the social distancing. In the area there that you were in, we have to separate everything. We probably have a third of the voting booths that we usually have. 

Nora Saks: Yeah, it’s really spaced out in there.

Rich Henningsen: Yes.

Nora Saks: And today, if someone comes here, they can drop off their ballot, they can also register to vote..

Rich Henningsen: They can register and vote today. Up until eight o’clock. 

Nora Saks: So, you’re taking folks’ temperatures. What’s the temperature threshold?

Rich Henningsen: Well what we do is, by code, it’s 102; the people can’t be in an area. If it’s over 100, they can’t go in. But we do is make sure we get their name, and make sure they vote. We’re not gonna let them go without voting.

Nora Saks: So it’s past three o'clock, which means we’re way past half way through the day. Can you just give me a snapshot of how it’s been going so far? 

Rich Henningsen: It’s been going wonderful. We’ve had this kind of crowd all day long, steady since seven o’clock. I didn’t think we’d have that, because as of yesterday we had 77 percent of the votes in. And I’m thinking, there can’t be a lot left out there. Boy was I wrong. I think we’ve had at least a couple thousand today.

Nora Saks: So you’ve been busy? 

Rich Henningsen: Oh yeah. 

Nora Saks: Anything out of the ordinary or surprising so far? 

Rich Henningsen: No, some people get irritated about all this masks and gun, but all in all they’re really good about it.

Nora Saks: So you haven’t had any issues?

Rich Henningsen: No we haven’t really. I mean, a few little ones, but not enough to mention.

Nora Saks: Ok fair enough. And then are you here until eight o’clock?

Rich Henningsen: Yeah, probably later.

Nora Saks:Wow. How do you keep your energy up on a day like today? 

Rich Henningsen: I go home and have a lot to drink. A lot of wine.

Nora Saks: I love your honesty. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Nora Saks is a freelance radio and print journalist investigating themes of environmental justice in the Crown of the Continent and beyond.