HELENA — Montana’s Nov. 3 general election likely will be conducted mostly – or, maybe entirely – through mail ballots, as Gov. Steve Bullock Thursday gave county election officials the power to choose that option.
Bullock, who made the same call for the June 2 primary election, said concerns for voter health and the ability for all citizens to cast their vote during the coronavirus pandemic persuaded him to do the same for the general election.
“It only makes sense that we start preparing now to ensure that no Montana will have to choose between their vote, or their health,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “They didn’t have to in June, and they shouldn’t have to in November.”
In June, all 56 Montana counties chose an all-mail ballot election – resulting in a record-high turnout for a primary election.
Two of Montana’s larger, urban counties – Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark – already have told MTN News they plan to do entirely mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election.
Bullock said if a county chooses an all-mail ballot, it also must make ballots available at election offices starting Oct. 2 and continue to do so through Election Day, and extend early voter registration to just 10 days before the election.
In-person registration at the election office, as usual, will continue until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters on Oct. 9 – the same day that absentee ballots would be sent to those requesting them.
The move to all-mail ballots could mean another record turnout, in a year when Montana has competitive electoral contests for almost every significant statewide office.
The U.S. Senate contest between Bullock and Republican U.S. Steve Daines is one of the highest-profiled Senate battles in the nation, and Montana voters will choose a new governor, U.S. representative, attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state.
County election officials formally asked Bullock July 24 to give them the power to go to all-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election.
In a letter, they raised many concerns about in-person voting during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it could be difficult finding polling places that would assuredly be open, and difficult to hire enough election judges willing to staff the polls.
Watch the full news conference below.