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Montana Supreme Court: Ballots Must Be Received By Election Day

A Montana primary election ballot in its return envelope
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio

The Montana Supreme Court today overruled a lower court order and restored the state’s Jun. 2 mail-in ballot receipt deadline for the upcoming primary.

The high court’s order means voters must get their mail-in ballots to their local election office or other drop off locations by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Attorney General Tim Fox asked the state supreme court to address Montana’s ballot receipt deadline the morning of May 27 on behalf of Secretary of State Corey Stapleton.

In its five-two decision on May 27, the state Supreme Court’s majority says it retained the ballot receipt deadline to avoid voter confusion and disruption of election administration. Instructions included with primary ballots tell voters to return their envelopes by that deadline.

The state Supreme Court will also hear on an expedited schedule an appeal from the state regarding the legality of Montana’s ballot receipt deadline. Justices want to wrap up briefings by mid August to provide time to rule ahead of November’s general election.

The ruling on May 27 overturns a Yellowstone County District Court judge’s May 22 injunction temporarily suspending a state law mandating the Election Day receipt deadline. The order said ballots must instead be postmarked by Election Day.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Dirk Sandefur both said they would have kept in place the district court’s order. “Allowing ballots to be counted in the same manner as military ballots is not a significant distinction from the current system,” McGrath said.

The district court found the state’s Election Day ballot receipt deadline would significantly suppress voter turnout among a handful of demographics.