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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

New Montana Election Law Brings Change To Ballot Returns

Voters at the Missoula County ballot drop-off center, May 23, 2017.
Eric Whitney
Montana Public Radio
Voters at the Missoula County ballot drop-off center, May 23, 2017.

Missoula County will be one of the first in Montana to test out a new statewide election law in its upcoming school and special district elections on May 7.

“It’s not really a change for the voters. It’s a change for the people who collect the ballots," says Missoula County Election Administrator Dayna Causby.

In the November 2018 election, voters approved Legislative Referendum 129, or the Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act. The statewide law says if someone other than the voter is returning a ballot, they must be a family member, caregiver, household member, or individual known by the voter. And they have to fill out a ballot collection form. Election officials and postal workers are exempt.

"So even if you are bringing in a ballot for your husband or your wife or your brother or sister, your grandma or grandpa, you still must complete that form," Causby says.

The form requires people delivering ballots other than their own to provide the voter’s name and address, as well as their relationship to the voter, and the deliverer’s name, address, phone number, and signature.

Any collector who doesn’t follow the law could be fined up to $500 per ballot, and a person can’t collect and deliver more than six ballots other than their own. A collector’s failure to follow the law does not invalidate the voter’s ballot.

The collection form will be copied on the back of the voter instructions. Forms can also be found at the Fairgrounds Election Center, May 7 drop-off locations, and online.

Voters do not need to complete the form if they are returning their own ballot or if they’re returning it by mail.

This law will be enforced by the Commissioner of Political Practices for all elections in Montana.

“Across the state, all the counties are working toward a good solution for this new act as required by the voters," Causby says. "We’re glad it’s getting started in 2019. These tend to be smaller elections. So we can learn how to implement it most effectively for the 2020 election.” 

Missoula County is holding by-mail-only school elections for trustees, general fund levies, and a bond, while the special district election includes a general fund levy for the Missoula Rural Fire District.

Ballots will be mailed out in Missoula County April 17 and need to be returned by 8 p.m. on election day, May 7.

Rosie Costain is a former MTPR reporter.
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