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Montana Election Officials Back Option For All Mail Ballot General Election

A voter drops off mail-in ballots at the Yellowstone County Court House June 2, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio
A voter drops off mail-in ballots at the Yellowstone County Court House June 2, 2020.

Officials in Montana’s second-most populated county support holding an all-mail ballot general election in November.

Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman says voting by mail is the logical choice amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve worked closely with the Board of County Commissioners and think having an all-mail election would be a beneficial way to help ensure great voter turnout, help provide the best services we can while keeping everybody safe," Seaman said.

Clerks and recorders recently requested Gov. Steve Bullock allow counties the option of conducting an all-mail ballot general election. Wednesday, Bullock said he’d make a decision by the counties’ recommended Aug. 10 deadline.

County elections officials made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail to avoid crowding and increased exposure to the coronavirus. Bullock agreed and every county opted for all-mail ballot elections.

The letter sent to Bullock’s office last week says hundreds of election judges are unwilling to work a traditional polling place election in November due to health concerns. It also says counties are losing polling place venues and are unable to use schools, nursing homes and other senior centers.

Seaman says if a traditional election is held in November it could put voters and staff alike at greater risk.

“It is very well known that in this current climate, we are asking election workers to put democracy above their health and safety, knowing there is a chance that they could contract COVID by helping serve on Election Day," he said.

The June 2 primary, Montana’s first all-mail ballot election, boasted record turnout 10 percent higher than the last presidential primary election. Seaman says the overall cost to conduct each of those elections was similar, but the price of this year’s primary was cheaper per voted ballot.

The request to the governor's office comes as President Donald Trump continues to claim mail-in voting in 2020 will lead to a fraudulent election.

The clerks and recorders’ letter says it’s “demonstrably false” that voting by mail is less secure than polling place voting. It says all-mail ballot elections feature security measures absent from traditional polling place elections.

Seaman says he isn’t aware of a proven voter fraud case in Missoula County history.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America statehouse reporter.