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More than two hundred candidates have filed with the Montana Secretary of State since Jan. 12. Many more have filed with county clerks for local offices.

Those numbers will keep growing through March 12 when the filing period ends for the June 5 primary.

For incumbents, the campaign season is a time to use the knowledge and skills gained in past successful races. For political newcomers, the rules of running for office may be foreign and confusing.

For many years, several Montana business organizations have sponsored nonpartisan classes for candidates. These one-day workshops aim to teach political novices the nuts and bolts of running a legal and successful campaign for public office.

This year's Campaign Schools are scheduled for Feb. 7 in Great Falls, Feb. 8 in Missoula, Feb. 9 in Bozeman and Feb. 10 in Billings.

During the full-day course, participants will learn from political professionals how to comply with election and finance laws, communicate their message, work with the press, write commercials, raise funds and get out the vote.. A portion of each session will feature informal presentations by experienced office holders: Former State Sen. Roy Brown in Billings, Sen. Bob Hawks in Bozeman, Speaker of the House Mike Milburn in Great Falls and Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams in Missoula.

Sponsors of the Campaign School are Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Electric Cooperatives, Montana Credit Union and Montana Realtors Association.

The cost to attend is $35 for one person. Additional staff or volunteers with the same campaign can register for $25 per person. To get more information or to register, go to mtco-ops.com, phone 406-761-8333 or register at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 10 at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana.

Our democracy depends on citizens effectively participating in elections. We encourage candidates who are planning or even just thinking about running for office to accept the Campaign School invitation to be more knowledgeable candidates.

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While candidates are filing for offices, Montana voters can file a simple form with their county elections office to ensure that they will be mailed ballots for all elections this year. Registered voters who want to be absentee (mail ballot) voters must make that request annually.

The Yellowstone County Elections Department recently mailed gold post cards to voters asking if they wish to be on the 2012 absentee list. Those who do need only sign and date the card and mail it back to the Elections Department.

Those who misplaced their cards or didn't get one can send a signed note to the Yellowstone County Elections Department requesting to be placed on the "permanent absentee" list for 2012. The note must include the voter's birth date and be mailed to: Elections Department, P.O. Box 35002, Billings, MT 59107.

Voters with Internet access may print out the brief absentee ballot request form at the Secretary of State website, complete it and mail it to the voter's county election office. The link is at billingsgazette.com with this Gazette opinion.

Don't wait to ensure that you will have your ballot mailed, if that is your choice. Make the request now and have one less thing left on your to do list in a big election year.

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