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

The Montana primary election, the first-ever statewide mail-in ballot election, was June 2.  You may have noticed that some people on the national scene are questioning the security of mail-in ballots. In Montana, every step in the voting process, from how we physically receive and mark those ballots to how those ballots are tallied, is outlined in Montana state law. These laws, and the hard-working election officials who implement them, guarantee our elections are fair and secure. The Secretary of State’s Web site (sosmt.gov) explains it all. 

We are lucky that Montana voters mark paper ballots with regular pens that allow quick scanning and are easy to recount. Many states rely on expensive vote marking machines (rather than pens and pencils) that can break down, or touch screens linked to computers that are vulnerable to hacking. Our voting equipment is lo-tech and highly secure.

For this year’s primary election, all registered voters were automatically mailed the primary ballot, which had to be returned to the election office by 8:00 pm on election day, June 2, to be included in the vote count. County election offices were also open on June 2 to allow for last-minute voter registration and voting. Montana had never done a mail-in ballot primary election before.  

Our election didn’t end on election day. Provisional ballots that were not resolved by the end of election day and ballots from military and overseas voters were counted on June 8.   Then, each County and the State Board of Canvassers certifies the election was conducted fairly and accurately. The Canvass Board, using a process laid out in state law, randomly chooses races, ballot issues and precincts to audit in a post-election audit. Those audits were conducted between June 10-15. As soon as the canvasses and audits were complete, Election administrators sent official election results by certified mail to the Secretary of State.

And the results of Montana June 2 primary are in!

  Registered Voters Voted June 27 Percent Voted
StateWide  697,638 382,071 54.87%
Lake County 18,906 10,221 54.06%
Sanders County 8358 5076 60.73%
Missoula County  94,642 45,246 53.46%

Montana had high voter turnout compared to national standards, and the highest number of primary ballots ever in our state!  State-wide and in the Flathead Reservation area counties, about 6 out of 10 registered voters cast a ballot in the June 2 election. 

The primary election determined the candidates from each political party who will be running for each office in the general election.  Primaries usually have lower voter turnout than general election in November, but this year Montana registered voters received their ballots in the mail and had weeks to mark ballots and send their ballots to their election’s office. Postage was free for this election, making voting even easier.  The whole point of this year’s special mail-in ballot primary election was to avoid face-to-face contact in the voting process because of the corona virus pandemic.

Whether Montana will also authorize all mail-in ballots for the general election on November 2 remains to be seen.  However, you can ensure that you can vote safely in the privacy of your own home and avoid face-to-face contact by registering now to have your ballot mailed to you for the general election.  In Montana this is done by requesting an absentee ballot.  Absentee ballots are mailed to those who request them 20 days prior to the election.  Go to the Secretary of State’s website to obtain an Absentee Ballot Request form or get one from your local election office.  Fill it out and mail it to your county election office any time between now and the end of September.  Montana allows every registered voter to obtain an absentee ballot and unlike other states, there are no restrictions, requirements or excuses needed.   

Nancy Maxson and Nancy Leifer, 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: lwvmissoula.org

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