Montana counties must count all valid absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, provided they are received by the following Monday, a District Court judge ruled Friday, in a significant change as the state’s June 2 primary nears.
In his written order, Yellowstone County District Judge Donald Harris temporarily suspended a state law that says absentee ballots must be received by a county election office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana’s June primary election is being conducted by mail to avoid spread of the virus at polling places.
Harris’ ruling brings absentee voters into parity with military and overseas voters, whose federal write-in ballots must be received by the Monday after Election Day.
The judge noted the differences in delivery times for mail-in ballots in various areas of Montana, as long as two weeks even, and said that disparity represents a significant burden to absentee voters.
He also seconded an order issued earlier in the week by District Judge Jessica Fehr, also of Billings, against enforcement of Montana’s Ballot Interference Protection Act, which says one person can only turn in six absentee ballots and requires that person to submit a form verifying whose ballots they are returning.