HELENA – Hundreds of thousands of people across Montana had already cast their vote by absentee ballot ahead of Tuesday’s mid-term elections.
According to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, 303,344 absentee ballots had been received by November 3.
That is already more absentee votes than were counted in any other midterm election in the state – and more than any presidential election except 2016. Almost 43% of registered Montana voters have already returned their ballots.
There was a huge jump this year in the number of people voting absentee. 426,354 Montana voters – just over 60% of those registered around the state – requested absentee ballots for the general election. That’s almost 70,000 more than the number of absentee voters in 2016.
In six counties around Montana, more than two-thirds of registered voters have received absentee ballots. They include Phillips and Valley Counties on the Hi-Line – two large counties that will each operate just one polling place on Election Day – and the heavily populated Cascade, Gallatin and Missoula counties.
Yellowstone County, the state’s most populous, has the largest percentage. Almost three-quarters of voters there requested absentee ballots, and more than three-quarters of those ballots have been returned. That means 56% of registered voters have already turned in a ballot – higher than the total voter turnout in the county for the 2014 or 2010 midterm elections.
Most of the areas with the lowest rates of absentee voting are in Eastern Montana. In Richland, Roosevelt, Carter, Powder River, Wibaux, Daniels and Big Horn counties, less than 40% of registered voters received absentee ballots.
What’s not clear yet is how many Montanans will vote on Election Day. In 2016, almost two-thirds of the state voted absentee, and that number has been increasing at every general election.
If you still haven’t returned your absentee ballot, there’s still time, but it’s too late to mail it in. Your ballot needs to be collected before 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. That means, if you want your vote to count, you need to bring it to your county elections office and drop it off in person.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News