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2020 Elections

Montana Counties To Begin Ballot Preparation Ahead Of General Election

A yellow sign with arrows and "election entrance" in black points the way.
Megan Myscofski
/
Montana Public Radio
Entrance to the Missoula Elections Center, where voters can register, vote in person or drop off a ballot.

County elections officials in Montana will begin preparing absentee ballots for counting starting Thursday.

Thanks to a law passed during the 2019 legislative session, county staff can start processing ballot envelopes up to three business days before Election Day instead of one.

Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman plans to take advantage of the extra time. His department has already received more than two thirds of the ballots it sent to registered voters.

“With over 50,000 ballots received by our office this will be critical to getting timely and accurate results,” Seaman said.

Seaman expects to post unofficial results faster than in the last two elections, likely by next Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Missoula County has about 240 election employees this year, with counting teams spaced apart to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus. Seaman says extra ballot prep time, along with a new option to begin using vote counting machines a day before the election, is particularly useful because the county doesn’t have any space for extra workers.

“It is a big impact because we couldn’t add in as many teams as we would while we’re trying to keep people safe and healthy,” Seaman said.

Due to coronavirus precautions and staffing constraints, Seaman says voters should be prepared to wait upwards of four hours if they visit the elections office on Nov. 3.

Meanwhile, voters in less populated Carbon County may only have to wait a few minutes on Election Day, according to Elections Administrator Macque Bohleen.

Carbon is one of 11 Montana counties holding a traditional polling place election, although 64 percent of voters there cast absentee ballots during the 2018 general election.

State law requires counties to have at least 8,000 registered voters to begin preparing absentee ballots early. Bohleen says Carbon County reached that number a few weeks ago so her staff will start opening envelopes Thursday.

“It just helps us be less stressed,” Bohleen said.

Bohleen expects Carbon County to post unofficial results by the end of election night.

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

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