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City election

Election judge Gene Heinz puts out "I Voted" stickers for voters at the Yellowstone County Courthouse for the city's primary election in September 2017.

With local elections a week away across Montana, the dedicated public servants in county elections offices and the small staff of the Commissioner of Political Practices are doing their best to carry out a law that made more work for them.

On Monday, the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders and the Commissioner of Political Practices emailed a reminder to voters that all hand-delivered ballots must be delivered by Nov. 5 and that any person who delivers a ballot on behalf of another voter must comply with the Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA).

BIPA, which was passed by 63% of Montana voters in the 2018 general election, affects absentee ballots and hand-delivered mail-only ballots. It was placed on the ballot by a majority of Republican legislators in the 2017 regular session.

“For some Montana voters, this is the first election with BIPA regulations. Our goal is to ensure that all Montana voters are educated about BIPA regulations so our elections and democracy can occur efficiently and with transparency, security, and confidence,” said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator and a representative of the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders.

Here are the election officials' tips for voters who choose to deliver ballots:

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  • BIPA does not apply for ballots returned by mail.
  • Any person who will be delivering ballots must fill out a BIPA registry form (Voters do not need to fill out the form to deliver their own ballot).
  • A maximum of six ballots (in addition to a person’s own ballot) can be delivered for the Nov. 5 election.
  • To speed up the delivery process, ballot collectors can print the BIPA registry form before collecting ballots.

“BIPA will impact individuals who return other person’s ballots in person. Because the COPP oversees BIPA’s compliance and enforcement, we are grateful to election administrators who are often the first point of contact in helping ensure voters are aware of and in compliance with BIPA regulations. Education is always the best compliance tool,” said Commissioner Jeff Mangan.

In Yellowstone County, transmitting the BIPA forms to the COPP in Helena is a daily chore for the elections office. Rutherford estimates the office has been scanning and electronically sending about 50 BIPA forms a day. Two elections judges will be hired to staff a table in the courthouse lobby on Nov. 4-5 to assist voters with filling out the BIPA forms. The forms are brief, but there may be delays when a lot of people are filling them out.

The easiest way to return mail ballots is to stamp and mail them. Rutherford recommends getting ballots in the mail no later than Friday to assure delivery by the Nov. 5 deadline.

As of Monday, the Yellowstone County office had received about 17,000 ballots back. The majority of eligible voters have just a week to get their ballots returned with their choices for Billings and Laurel city councils and land purchase by Laurel Public Schools.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.