Montanans looking to participate in the June primary election will be able to vote by mail and do so early under a directive issued Wednesday by Gov. Steve Bullock.

The governor's directive allows counties to expand voting by mail – a measure already being promoted in Missoula County, which plans to pay the postage for return mail-in ballots.

“This is about protecting Montanans’ right to vote at a time we face unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bullock said in a statement. “Locally elected officials best understand the voting needs of their communities, and taking this action now ensures they will have the time to make the right decisions for their localities.

Bullock issued the directive as deadlines for election administrators rapidly approaches. Though voting will not end until June 2, statutory deadlines and other requirements involved in preparing for the election require actions by counties as early as next week.

“I am in full support of Gov. Bullock’s directive of providing counties the option to conduct our June 2nd primary by mail,” said Speaker Greg Hertz. “This directive allows counties to choose what is best for their voters and election staff during this state of emergency.”

The Directive provides that even when a county decides to adopt a mail ballot for the June primary election, Montanans are still permitted to vote in person during the 30-day voting window — even if they have received a mail ballot.

If counties chose to participate in mail voting for the June primary, they must submit plans to do so. Mail ballots would be released on May 8 and early voting would be available in person through the close of the primary election on June 2.

Voters will not be required to pay postage to return their ballots by mail.

“This is absolutely the right thing for our democracy and for the health and safety of all Montana voters,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. “Making this decision now provides certainty and clarity to Montana's election officials in order to prepare a voting process that works best for their communities.”