Few days remain before Montana’s Jun. 2 primary election, so voters who haven’t mailed their ballots should instead drop them off in person at county election offices and other drop off locations. Some election officials are already processing mail in primary envelopes.
Missoula County elections administrator Bradley Seaman says turnout in his county will likely surpass previous primaries. Nearly 36 percent of registered voters there had returned ballots as of May 27.
“And in elections, the more people who vote means the more accurate their wishes are,” Seaman said.
Missoula County turnout almost matches the state average at this point: 37 percent. To compare, 45 percent of Montana voters turned out for the last presidential primary in 2016.
A legal dispute sowed confusion this month by almost changing the state’s ballot receipt deadline. A Yellowstone County District Court judge also temporarily suspended the Ballot Interference Prevention Act, which would have allowed one person to turn in only six absentee ballots and asked that they fill out a form saying whose ballots they were returning.
Regardless, some election officials are already preparing ballots for counting, thanks to a separate election law passed last year allowing them to begin the process earlier than before.
Flathead County election office manager Monica Eisenzimer says the extra time will significantly reduce pressure on staff.
“I mean, I don’t know of anybody that wants to spend all day, from 4 o'clock in the morning is when we start our day, to 4 o’clock the next day, and have to be as alert and aware of everything that’s going on,” Eisenzimer said.
County officials expect the new law will lead to faster results on Election Day. But, some of them think many voters will still be submitting ballots until the 8 p.m. deadline on Jun. 2.
Rural Big Horn County, for example, has only seen 20 percent turnout so far. Elections administrator Dulcie Bear Don’t Walk says local voters prefer to do it in person.
“People are 20 or 30 miles apart, and they don’t hardly ever come off their ranch. And so on voting day, that’s the day they generally see everybody. So it is a very social activity,” said Bear Don’t Walk.
Big Horn County will offer drop off locations at all usual polling places on Election Day.