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2020 Elections

Majority Of Absentee Ballots Already Returned In Montana

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The majority of absentee ballots have already been returned in Montana with less than a week until Election Day.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 440,000 absentee ballots had been submitted, according to the Montana secretary of state’s office. That’s nearly 68 percent of all ballots sent to voters this year.

Montana State University political scientist Eric Raile doesn’t have pre election data from past years to compare, but he expects high turnout when the polls close this time around.

“Because the parties and candidates are really pushing for it. It’s a high consequence presidential election,” Raile said.

County elections officials have already received more than three quarters of the total votes cast during the last presidential election in 2016.

Fergus County has the highest turnout so far: 79 percent. Lewis and Clark County has the highest turnout among heavily populated counties at 73 percent.

Apart from the presidential race, Raile says voters have strong views about the novel coronavirus pandemic, which could boost turnout.

Montana’s big three races, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governor are all within the margin for error, according to an Oct. 14 MSU poll. Raile says that may also drive more voters to cast ballots.

“All of the major races in Montana are in play. They could all go one way or another depending on what turnout ends up looking like,” Raile said.

The political scientist says the final turnout tally will depend largely on young and independent voters.

“Because they’re the ones that really drive these numbers. The stalwarts turn out every time. But what do those other groups look like on the margins,” Raile said.

Raile says a potential X factor could be the amount of people who vote in-person.

The majority of Montana counties are holding all mail ballot elections but will offer late voter registration and ballot drop off locations on Nov. 3. Ballots must be received by 8 P.M. on Election Day to be counted.

A record number of Montanans cast ballots during the state’s first all mail ballot primary election in June.

Kevin Trevellyan is YPR News' Report For America statehouse reporter.