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Gazette opinion: Cast your ballot on or before June 5

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The monthlong process of voting in Montana’s primary elections is well under way.

Statewide, about 60,000 absentee ballots have already been voted and returned to county elections offices, according to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who also noted that Yellowstone County has sent and received back the highest number of ballots.

About 16,000 Yellowstone County voters had cast absentee ballots as of midweek, according to elections administrator Bret Rutherford. The county elections office has been receiving hundreds of ballots daily.

Absentee ballots are so popular in Yellowstone County that Rutherford’s office has already mailed out 8,000 more ballots than have ever been voted here in a state primary. That was in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were battling for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The interest in absentee ballots probably means that most voters will cast ballots before Election Day on June 5.

Whether you vote early or on June 5, here are some legal details to keep in mind:

  • If you are among the thousands of Montanans who requested and received absentee ballots, be sure to vote and return your ballot to your county elections office no later than 8 p.m. June 5. If you are mailing the ballot back, mail it in time for delivery by Election Day.
  • If you are a registered voter, didn’t get an absentee ballot and haven’t moved since you last voted, go to your polling place June 5. Most polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • If you are a registered voter who has moved since you last voted, you may vote one last time at your old polling place on June 5. If you want to vote at your new polling place, contact your county election office before Election Day for information about updating your registration.
  • If you are a Montana resident who will be 18 or older on Election Day and have not registered to vote, you may still register and vote in the June 5 election by going to your county elections office during regular business hours through noon on June 4.
  • New voters may still register and vote on Election Day. However, the process is much quicker (about two minutes) before Election Day, Rutherford says. Election Day registrations are considered “provisional” under Montana law and take about 15 minutes each to process. He encourages voters to register before June 5.
  • From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 5, the Yellowstone County elections office will operate at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark; the courthouse office will be closed that day. Absentee ballots may be dropped off at Montana Pavilion. Yellowstone County residents may register and vote there. And the pavilion will be the polling place for all voters within the Billings elementary school district.
  • Yellowstone County voters outside the Billings elementary district will cast ballots at the regular polling places in their local schools and communities.

Voting went smoothly at the consolidated Billings polls at Montana Pavilion two years ago. With plenty of parking and good organization by the elections office, voters generally didn’t have to wait to cast their ballots.

It’s important for Montana voters to know that they have choices.

As McCulloch said: “Whether you plan to vote by absentee ballot, or head to the polls on Election Day, there are many tools available to help you cast your ballot both privately and securely.”

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