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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montanans Voting In Record Numbers For 2020 Primary Election

Montana Secretary of State

A record number of Montanans have submitted ballots for the June 2 primary election. Ballots can be dropped off at county election headquarters and other drop off sites until 8 P.M. today.

County election officials had received more than 312,000 ballots for Montana’s first all-mail-in ballot election as of Sunday night. That's nearly 19,000 more votes than the previous primary record set in 2016. Nearly 45 percent of registered voters have returned ballots for this year’s primary. That number is lower than other counts that don't include inactive voters.Butte-Silver Bow has one of the highest turnout rates among Montana’s urban counties with almost 53 percent. Elections Administrator Sally Hollis thinks competitive races are driving high votership.

“You’re looking at national. You’re looking at state. And then you’re looking at county. There’s just a lot on the ballot and I think people want to vote and make their voice heard," Hollis says.

Like many of Montana’s more populated counties, Butte-Silver Bow had already begun counting ballots ahead of Election Day.

Eric Raile, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University, says the all-mail-in system is likely boosting turnout. He says surveys from his lab suggest the novel coronavirus pandemic could be a factor too.

“People are at home and looking for things to do. So they’re going through their mail, filling things out and turning them back in," Raile says.Raile says strong name recognition among candidates running for the governor’s office, U.S. House and U.S. Senate many also contribute to strong turnout.

Numbers aren’t high in every region, however.

Only 24 percent of registered voters submitted ballots in Big Horn County, where in-person voting is typically preferred. Flathead County has low turnout among Montana’s high-population counties: about 39 percent.

Ballot returns have also slumped mildly in Montana’s academic hotspots, according to Raile. Missoula and Gallatin counties have seen 41 and 37 percent turnout, respectively.

“It’s a little bit of a puzzle. Those stand out to me,” Raile says.Despite the low percentage, more Gallatin County voters have submitted ballots than in any other primary election there.

It’s not too late for those who still have their envelopes. Voters can submit ballots at county election offices until 8 P.M. Tuesday. Many counties also offer separate drop-off locations.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kevin is a UM Journalism graduate student and reporter for MTPR.
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