Primary election Day in Montana isn't until June 5, but absentee voting is getting underway in what has become most Montanans' preferred way to cast their vote.
Today is the deadline for county election officials to mail absentee ballots for the elections to decide party nominees for the U.S. House and Senate, contests and other state races.
Turnout is typically dismal for primaries in years with no presidential race. This year is expected to be no different. Only about a third of Montana's 675,000 voters are expected to cast ballots.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton estimates that at least 140,000 people will vote by mail in this election. Stapleton isn't a fan of absentee voting. He says that at at least $1.40 per ballot for postage, it's expensive. And Stapleton says highly partisan voters tend to vote earliest, while the independents and undecideds usually wait, he said.
But advocates for absentee voting say it encourages greater participation and helps people who can't physically get to a polling place. It also can reduce wait times at the polls, and gives people time to learn about down-ticket races they may be seeing for the first time on the ballot, instead of blindly choosing candidates when they are in a voting booth.
Voters will have the option of choosing a Democratic, Green or Republican party ballot this year, the first time since 2000 there has been a choice of three ballots in a Montana primary.