MISSOULA - Despite having a levy and bond on the local ballot, a congressional race, a county race, and a litany of other decisions at stake during next week's election, ballot returns thus far have been lagging.
On Tuesday morning, Missoula County commissioners appointed three members to the post-election audit committee. The selectees were randomly chosen by the Secretary of State's Office and represent members of local precincts.
Anne Hughes, the county's chief operating officer, said the canvas will take place on Nov. 21. She also said ballot returns are behind what most would hope for in a race with so much in play.
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“Around 38% of ballots have been returned,” said Hughes, who is urging voters to vote early. “One of the great things about getting your ballot in early, if you have any issues that need resolving with staff, it gives time to make those corrections to ensure your ballot is counted.”
In the June primary, the turnout in Missoula County fell short of 38% with 32,887 ballots cast. Of those, more than 20,300 voters cast a Democrat ballot and 12,500 cast a Republican ballot.
Those numbers will need to improve in next week's election if the turnout rate is to hit past figures.
“We have about 85% of our voters vote absentee,” said Hughes. “It would be typical if we got about a 60% return rate.”
Early returns are also down in other counties, according to news sources. Gallatin County reported a return rate of just 28% and Yellowstone County is below 40%.
This year's ballot includes three ballot initiatives, including a levy request for crisis services, a bond request for the fairgrounds, and a question regarding “born alive” infants.
A race for Missoula County commissioners is on the table, along with Montana's new Western District representative to Congress.
A number of legislative seats are also up for grabs, along with Justice of the Peace, a state constitutional amendment regarding electronic privacy, and a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.
The election is next Tuesday and ballots must be received by the county elections office by 8 p.m.