By Nancy and the Other Nancy
Nancy Leifer and Nancy Maxson, Co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Missoula
Voting by mail means we don’t risk catching or spreading COVID-19 to our neighbors and election workers by voting in-person at polling places.
Every American has the right to vote in-person on Election Day and in Montana you can even register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day. County election offices will accommodate those voters. However, because of the Corona Virus, fewer polling places will be set up and lines may be long. If you vote at a polling place, expect to wear a mask and socially distance.
For the 2020 November 3 General Election, each Montana county has the option to decide whether it will use the all-mail ballot or not. If your county decides not to hold an all mail-in election but you want to vote by mail to keep yourself and your family safe, now is the time to complete an “Absentee Ballot Request” form. Montana election law allows voters to register for “absentee” mail-in ballots for any and all elections, without explaining why they can’t or don’t want to vote at a polling place. Go to the Secretary of State’s website (https://sosmt.gov/elections) and download the form, fill it out and return it to your county election office.
Voting by mail allows voters to take more time casting their ballot than voting in busy polling places. Voters can do additional research on candidates or refer to the Montana Election Guide (more on that in one of our up-coming columns) for information about ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments.
Voting by mail improves voter turn-out. And having more voters cast their ballots means our democracy better represents the will of the people. Montana recorded record voter turn-out in the June primary election when all Montana active voters could vote by mail.
Voting by mail requires voters pay close attention to the election calendar. The calendar on the Secretary of State’s website has changed recently and there are now different dates for counties doing an all-mail-in election and those using a polling place election:
September 18, absentee ballots mailed to military and over-seas voters
October 2, first day you can vote an absentee ballot, in-person at your county election , IF your county is opting for an all-mail-in election
October 5, first day you can vote an absentee ballot, in-person at your county election office, IF your county is opting for a polling place election
October 9, absentee ballots will be mailed and, in counties opting for an all-mail election, ballots will be mailed to all active voters. If you think you should have received your ballot in the mail, but you don’t get it by October 15, you need to contact your county election office to find out why. You may have to re-register to vote and cast a provisional ballot in-person at the election office.
October 20, the day we recommend you mail in your ballot if you are using the US Postal Service to ensure it reaches your county election office so your vote can be counted.
October 26, the last day of regular voter registration. If you haven’t registered to vote by the 26th, you will have to register in-person at your county election office and receive your ballot while there.
November 3, Election Day. In-person voting at polling places ends at 8 pm. The election office must receive your ballot by 8 pm for your vote to count. You can drop off your ballot at the election office or at official ballot collection stations before 8 pm.
November 9, over-seas, military ballots counted.
November 30, the Secretary of State can certify the final election results after the Montana canvas board completes its audit of the election and ballot counts.
Now is a good time to check that you are a registered active voter, that the address on file for you is the right one, and check whether you have requested an absentee ballot, Use the My Voter Page (https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/) on the Secretary of State’s website to do this. If you are not registered to vote, need to change your address or request an Absentee ballot, you can do this remotely without person-to-person contact by filling in the form on a computer and printing it out, or printing out a blank form and filling it in with a pen. Either way, you must sign the completed form and return it to your county election office either by mail or in person.
To vote safely in the November 3 General Election, take action now to vote by mail!
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: lwvmissoula.org