Nancy Leifer and Nancy Maxson, Co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Missoula

The last ballots were cast on November 3. Now the lengthy process of counting the ballots, auditing the count, allowing for recounts if necessary, and finally certifying the results of the election lie before us. The key word for all of us is patience. 

Provisional Ballots

Montana law requires that local election officials wait six days after Election Day to count overseas and provisional ballots. Voters using provisional ballots must submit in-person or by mail postmarked by 5 pm the day after the election all information needed to resolve their provisional status. Waiting 6 days gives election officials time to check the records of voters of provisional ballots to ensure that each ballot is valid before counted. This also allows extra time for overseas ballots to arrive.  Once these ballots have been certified and counted, counties send preliminary results of the election to the Montana Secretary of State.  

Certifying the Vote

Montana also requires a manual ballot audit of federal election results for every county that used automated ballot tabulating machines. The Montana Board of Canvassers randomly selects precincts and then randomly selects races in those precincts to be hand-counted by three election judges. Only if their totals and the one tabulated by the machine are within .5 of 1 percent or 5 ballots, whichever is greater, of each other is the election deemed official.  


This is not the end of the story. Montana law provides for ballot recounts of close elections.  A tie vote requires an immediate recount. If the margin of difference between the candidates is .25 of 1 percent of the votes cast or less, the losing candidate can request a recount that is for paid by the government. If the margin between the candidates is between .25 and .5 of 1 percent of the votes cast, the losing candidate can post a bond to cover the costs and then request a recount. It is possible for a recount of a ballot issue if the margin is .25 of 1 percent of the total votes cast or less.  

All of these processes have been in place for many years, and always take time.  It will likely be November 30 or later before the Montana Secretary of State declares the official results of Montana’s election. Montana is not alone in requiring specific procedures for tabulating and auditing election results before declaring those results official.  Most states have similar procedures that must be followed to ensure ballots are certified and tabulated correctly.  

This year in particular, many states will be processing mail ballots after the election and it will take time for these processes to be completed.  While we have in the past had election results the day following the election, this year results may not be known for some time.  However long it takes, our patience in expecting results supports our election officials as they follow procedures to protect the integrity of our elections.  Democracy is worth waiting for!

Thank you for your Persistence

This year Montana voters faced unprecedented hurdles registering to vote and submitting their ballots. The pandemic required social distancing and public health safety precautions that included closed polling places, a mail ballot election, fewer voter registration events and get out the vote efforts. And then it snowed. It takes persistence to participate in elections, especially in difficult times. We want to thank all the people who helped.

Tribal Resources

The Salish Kootenai Tribal Get out the Vote team maximized social and traditional media to broadcast voting information. They teamed up with the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition and other organizations to reached out to neighborhoods and communities with voter registration events featuring food and fellowship in rain and snow. They also set up secure ballot drop-off boxes for residents to return their ballots if they chose not to mail them. Those drop-off boxes would not have been possible without a lawsuit by Montana Native Votes and five tribal governments that overturned the 2018 Ballot Interference Prevention Act which limited ballot collection. Native Votes sponsored get out the vote efforts on all seven Montana reservations while this tribal newspaper promoted voting in every issue.

Friends and Family

Without persistent help from family and friends, many eligible voters would have missed this election. Every grandparent and parent who voted and encouraged their family members to vote helped make voting a family tradition, a wonderful way to encourage children to be life-long voters. Teachers registered students to vote and helped them understand the election process. Neighbors and volunteers went door-to-door to register voters and to pick up ballots so voters could socially distance and stay safe. The increased risk from the pandemic prevented most voters from voting in-person and the door-to-door registration and ballot collection was especially vital this election year.

The Voters

For some voters, 2020 was their first-time voting. It takes courage to vote for the first time. It takes commitment to community to register and vote. And it took persistence to vote this year. We thank everyone who voted this year, with special thanks to new voters, inactive voters who had to re-register or update their voter registration, and those who were formerly incarcerated who exercised their right to vote. The election process is stronger because of your persistence. 

Nancy Maxson and Nancy Leifer are Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters Missoula. 

The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16.  For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website:

Spotlight on Citizenship

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