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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

New state voting laws are in effect. Make sure you're ready before election day

Election sign reading 'polling place' on a door at a Missoula polling place.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio

The Montana Legislature this year made several changes to the way people can vote.

People can no longer register to vote on Election Day. Ballot collectors are now prohibited from picking up and delivering absentee ballots for pay. And voters who don’t have a government-issued ID or state concealed carry permit must provide two forms of ID to cast a ballot.

Montana Public Radio’s Freddy Monares spoke with Missoula County’s Election Administrator Bradley Seaman about what the changes might look like for voters ahead of municipal elections Tuesday.

Freddy Monares What kind of education has been needed to let voters know about these changes?

Bradley Seaman Well, there's been some pretty big changes to the way that voters can interact on Election Day. And we've worked really hard to help share this information out well ahead of Election Day. So the biggest change that we saw was what you just mentioned the elimination of same day voter registration. Most voters won't be able to update their registration information or register new on Election Day. This specifically involves new voter registrations if you haven't been registered in Montana at all before, that cutoff is at noon on Monday. If you're moving from one county to another, so you came from Great Falls, Cascade County to Missoula, you would not be able to register and vote on Election Day. That would end at noon the day before. Voters who were moving within a county from one precinct to another will be able to register to vote from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. So if you're in Missoula County and you've moved from Seeley Lake to Missoula, you will be able to update and cast that ballot and register to vote. So that's been one of the big confusions that we want to make sure that voters know those different areas.

Now, the best way you can make sure that you get to vote on Election Day is don't wait. Come in before noon on Monday. In Missoula County, we're offering some extended hours. Other counties may not be able to do that, but if you're in before noon on Monday, you'll be able to register, get that new ballot and make sure your vote gets count.

Now, on Election Day, you can still pick up an undeliverable absentee ballot or request a replacement if you've made a mistake. And then you'll also be able to drop off a ballot. In Montana, postmarks, if your county is having a mail ballot election, a postmark doesn't apply. So it has to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. So in Missoula, we're going to have 10 different drop off locations, and other counties should have their courthouse or a few other areas designated.

Freddy Monares Thanks for clarifying all that. Do any of these changes to the voting process stand out to you as the most significant in how people can vote moving forward?

Bradley Seaman I think that that elimination of the 13 hours of same-day voter registration is going to be one of the hardest areas to overcome. We have a lot of voters who come in expecting that they'll be able to update their information, register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day. Losing those 13 hours as the final safeguard for those voters could potentially make it harder for voters to get their ballot in on Election Day.

And then there's also some changes to be aware of in the polling place. So if your county's having a polling place election, those voter ID laws did change a little bit. So you need that government issued ID or that concealed carry permit from the state of Montana. And then the other area that you're looking at is that if you have a paper ID where we used to be able to take, like a bank statement or utility bill, you'll be required to have a photo ID in addition to that. So if you come in with your voter registration card that we mail you, we'll also be asking for a photo ID like a Costco card that shows your picture and your name, or a student ID, in addition to that.

Freddy Monares Is there anything else you're keeping an eye on for this election?

Bradley Seaman Well, I think that the other big thing is kind of about open access and transparency. Every elections office across the state is happy to help answer any questions. In Missoula County, we've had a lot of different tours and we've wanted to make sure that all voters know that you're welcome to come and observe these practices, and you can see this process take place. So if you have questions about the process, reach out to your local election administrator.

Freddy Monares The reason why we're talking about this is because Montanan, the Legislature, has made some changes. Republicans have said these changes strengthen election integrity. Democrats have said it makes it harder for certain people to vote. In your opinion, which is true?

Bradley Seaman Well, elections is always a really unique area. This is the cross section between government, voting and politics, and many of the recent law and changes are currently in the courts and we'll let the courts make that decision.

Freddy Monares Bradley Seaman is Missoula County's election administrator. Thanks again, Bradley.

Bradley Seaman Thank you, Freddy.

Freddy Monares was a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio.
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