The power of Billings voters isn't what is should be. Too many of us skip the responsibility of voting.
In the Billings municipal election several weeks ago, only 38% of registered voters turned out. This is down from a turnout of 43.04% in the 2015 municipal primary and 43.41% in the 2017 primary when the city last elected a new mayor.
Even municipal general elections bring out just over half of registered voters: 52.10% in 2017 and 53.38% in in 2017.
Nearly half of local voters usually only vote in the federal elections conducted in even-numbered years when congressional and presidential candidates are on the ballot.
As of Tuesday, Yellowstone County had 84,000 active voters, including 59,000 in the city of Billings, who will receive mail ballots for the Nov. 5 City Council election. These numbers are the lowest in the four-year election cycle because state law requires counties to update their voter rolls in odd-number years.
The high point of voter registration is usually around 98,000, according to Yellowstone County Elections administrator Bret Rutherford. Yellowstone just finished complying with state law by removing voters who hadn't voted in the past two federal elections and had not responded to two mailings asking them to update their voter registration.
If you move, it is important to update your election registration with your county elections office — even if you notify the post office or update your driver's license, Rutherford said. Neither the U.S. Postal Service nor the Montana Motor Vehicle Division notifies the elections office of address changes.
The ease at which voters can register to vote can affect turnout. In 2012, the National Association of Secretaries of State established National Voter Registration Day to celebrate democracy and increase interest in voting. The celebration was to be held on the fourth Tuesday of September, each year.
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In 2012, volunteers holding voter registration drives all over the country registered over 300,000 people. The League of Women Voters has been the single largest on-the-ground partner since its inception.
In 2018, 400 League chapters in 47 states participated and mobilized volunteers to help register more than 800,000 people. This year, National Voter Registration Day will be held on Tuesday.
The Billings League of Women Voters will have registration tables in four Billings locations Tuesday. Please stop by, say hello and make sure you’re registered to vote.
Here are three easy ways to register:
- Go to the Yellowstone County Elections website, print out a voter registration form, complete the form, sign it and mail it to the elections office in your county. Addresses for all 56 county elections offices are provided on the registration form.
- Visit your county elections office (the clerk's office in most counties) during regular business hours and fill out the registration card. In Yellowstone County the elections office on the first floor of the county courthouse is open 8-5 weekdays.
- Stop by a League of Women Voters voter registration table between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday at RiverStone Health, Billings YMCA, Billings Public Library or the Yellowstone County Courthouse.
We strongly encourage all Billings residents to be registered to vote and to participate in the Nov. 5 general election.
Even if you don't plan to vote till the 2020 federal elections, it's a good idea to get registered now. Those who get registered this year will be on the voter rolls for 2020, unless they move.
Advance registration ensures that you will be able to exercise your right to vote — and that you will receive a mail ballot for all local elections. Registered votes can request a mail ballot for federal elections or choose to vote at polls in June and November of 2020.