Missoula apparently didn't get the memo about election fatigue.
In spite of an onslaught of political mailers, attack ads, door knockers and last-minute robocalls, voters flocked to the polls in droves so huge that election officials struggled to keep pace. At the Missoula County Elections Office, voters waited several hours to register and the last ballot wasn't cast until after 11 p.m., more than three hours after polling stations were set to close. All told, voters cast 60,520 ballots in Missoula, according to election administrator Vickie Zeier's unofficial Wednesday morning tally. That's an increase of 903 voters from 2008.
The only lines longer than those at the elections office were at downtown bars, where the scene looked more like a summer Saturday night than a Tuesday in November. Charlie B's was standing room only, with all eyes trained on newscasts. The Union Club hit capacity before 8 p.m., prompting a line out the door as if people were waiting again at the polling station.
Voters packed the Elks Lodge for Forward Montana's Election Night Party and roared as MSNBC proclaimed victory for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Shortly thereafter, a report of early Montana returns favoring incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester prompted several men to hit the bar for shots, screaming "Tester won!" Only 2 percent of Montana was reporting in at the time, but no one seemed comfortable challenging their jubilance.
By midnight, United Steelworkers representative and former Missoula Councilman Roy Houseman had taken to periodically updating the crowd at the Union Club with the latest results statewide. "In the Senate race, Rehberg with 89,000 votes...Tester with 107,000!" The crowd went nuts, quieting only when Obama appeared on television shortly before midnight for his victory speech.
By 1 a.m., the Dead Hipster Dance Party at the Elks had dwindled to a few diehards, including newly elected state representative Kim Dudik, who sipped water at a table. Most results had to wait until the morningTester was declared the winner about eight hours laterand local newscasts had signed off. The party surely raged on elsewhere, but at the Elk's, at least, voters were finally tiring. All that was left was to clean up the mess.