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Election news from Yellowstone Public Radio and its partners to help you make an informed decision at the polls.

Absentee ballot returns continue to lag in Gallatin County; residents can cast provisional ballots

A customer deposits mail into a U.S. Postal Service mail collection box
Patrick T. Fallon
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Staffing issues at the post office in Bozeman have led to some mail delivery issues. Gallatin County voters who did not receive their absentee ballot in the mail can vote provisionally on Election Day

Just over half of all absentee ballots have been returned in Gallatin County, according to the counts from the Montana Secretary of State’s office released on Monday. That’s the sixth lowest return rate in the state.

Just over 62,000 ballots were mailed to voters in the county in mid-October. Of those, 34,504 had been returned.

In recent weeks there have been mail delivery issues in the county while the U.S. postal service in Bozeman deals with low staffing.

In a statement USPS says it is not aware of any delayed ballots and that all mail in the county is current.

“We are utilizing all available resources, including bringing in carriers from outside the area to deliver the mail and meet our commitments,” USPS wrote.

In October Montana U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines called on USPS leadership to fix mail delivery issues in Gallatin County, expressing concerns that delays could impact Montanans ability to vote.

Replying to Daines in a letter on Thursday, USPS spokesperson Mary Ann Simpson acknowledged that the Bozeman office is experiencing staffing issues. Carriers from other offices and volunteers have been brought in to deliver the mail.

“There are approximately three delivery routes that are two to three days behind on delivery,” Simpson wrote, adding there there have not been ballot delays in Bozeman.

“All employees have been told to prioritize Election Mail and ballots above all other mail and not to keep a ballot in a facility overnight.”

Daines responded to the letter in a statement saying “I will continue to stay in close contact with Postmaster General DeJoy until the issues at the Bozeman post office have been resolved.”

In a video statement shared with YPR on Monday Tester said he has spoken with Postmaster DeJoy about mail delivery in the Gallatin Valley.

“It’s fallen on deaf ears, but I’ll continue to talk louder…until I get his attention," Tester said.

Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder Eric Semerad told YPR that based on conversations with USPS, he’s confident all ballots that the USPS has received back at their facilities will be returned to the county in time for them to be counted.

“Now that they’re fully staffed over at the post office here in Bozeman I’m confident that they are going to be able to get us everything that comes in on election day,” he said.

The county says if someone did not receive a ballot they can vote provisionally at polling places on election day. Polling places throughout the county are open from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. besides Bridger Canyon Fire Station, which is open from noon - 8 p.m.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.