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Montana's primary election moves to mail ballot
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Montana's primary election moves to mail ballot

All active registered voters in Montana will be able to vote by mail in the June 2 primaries. 

Following a directive issued by Gov. Steve Bullock in March, each county in the state was given the option of conducting an all mail-in ballot primary in June as the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19.

By Friday, every county in the state had confirmed to the Secretary of State's office they would take the mail-in option.

"We've approved them all," said Dana Corson, the state elections director. 

Counties have until Wednesday to switch back to administering a traditional election with polling places.

"But I think it's unlikely at this point," Corson said. 

Ballots will be mailed on May 8.

While polling places will be closed on Election Day, each county's election office is required to accommodate some form of early, in-person voting, according to the governor's directive. 

"Each county will need to maintain an office or a place to assist voters and polling, and we are gathering that information now," Corson said.

The directive also mandates that postage for every ballot mailed in by voters will be paid for by that county's election office. Voters will not have to pay for postage, he said.

That's different from the absentee ballot system used by Montana counties, which requires voters to pay the postage.  

For years the state has given voters the option of voting absentee by mail. For example, in Yellowstone, the state's most populous county, roughly 73,000 of the county's 85,000 registered voters, or 87.6%, vote by mail through absentee ballot.

While those numbers vary by county, a sizable group of voters across the state still casts ballots at a polling place, Corson said. And even if it's a relatively small group, voters gathering at a polling location on Election Day put themselves and the poll workers at risk. 

"We still would have had to put a large number of election judges into close proximity of each other and the public at our 14 polling places," said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator. "In the current situation, this was a no-brainer for me."

Currently, the state has no plans to extend the vote-by-mail directive to November's general election, but it's possible. 

"It'll depend on the virus situation in November," Corson said. 

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