Lewis and Clark County reprinted ballots after a period, instead of a comma, appeared in the dollar amount for the Helena School District’s elementary building reserve levy.
The cost to obtain new paper for the ballots and to have them reprinted was about $6,000, said Paulette DeHart, the county’s treasurer/clerk and recorder and its chief election official.
The error, she added, was noticed before all of the 36,000 ballots were printed.
“When you’re talking dollars, people’s tax dollars, you want to be correct. And we fixed it,” she added.
When proofreading the ballot, county staff did not notice the error, DeHart said. The mistake, she added, is an easy one to make.
The incorrect period was mistaken for a comma, she explained.
The ballot issue asks whether the elementary district shall be authorized to levy taxes to support a building reserve fund in the amount of $1,250,000 per year for the purpose of safety/security, energy conservation, equipping, remodeling or major maintenance projects of elementary buildings.
Passage of the levy would mean the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay about $18.96 in taxes while the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay about $37.92 in taxes.
The error occurred as the ballot issue stated “The durational limit of the levy is for ten (10) years once approved by the voters and has a cumulative grant total of $12,500,000.”
The period mistakenly replaced the comma among the five zeroes and the figure initially appeared incorrectly as “$12,500.000.”
Having a period instead of a comma, DeHart said, would misrepresent the dollar amount.
The instructions on filling out the ballot have also prompted emails to the Independent Record. While the ballot instructs voters to use blue or black ink, that instruction is accompanied by a drawing of a pencil, the same illustration that appears below this instruction among what not to use when marking a ballot.
Voters can use a pencil to mark their ballots even though the ballot asks that ink be used, DeHart said.
The use of ink, she noted, would address any possible concerns by voters that their ballots may be changed before being counted.
The new vote tabulating machines, she said, are able to read ballots that are marked with pencil instead of ink.
DeHart said she did not believe any of the ballots with the typographical error were mailed earlier this week when those for municipal elections in Helena and East Helena and for the school district went out.
All ballots must be returned to her office, either by mail or by dropping them off, by 8 p.m. on Nov. 5 to be counted, DeHart said.
Voters also need to sign the envelope inside of which the ballot goes.
Each of these signatures is checked against the digital copy that the county has on file and if the two don’t match, the voter will be asked to contact the elections office.
An updated signature will be required for the county’s records, she added.
In addition to receiving ballots, county residents will soon be receiving property tax bills for 2013, DeHart said.
The county will be billing some $88 million of school, state, city and county taxes. The second half of the payment is due at the end of May. About 39,000 people will be receiving property tax bills.
State law requires the property tax bills are sent to the owner of record for the property, she added.
“If you have an escrow account, for your own safety, send the stubs to your mortgage company,” DeHart said.