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Bullock permits counties to conduct all-mail ballot; Missoula County pleased

Counties across Montana will have the option of conducting an all-mail ballot this fall under a directive issued Thursday by Gov. Steve Bullock.

Several counties across the state, including Missoula County, had urged Bullock to expand voting by mail and early voting given the pandemic and the strain it could place upon local budgets and the health of polling volunteers.

“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 said. “With this approach we can protect that fundamental right to vote, while easing crowding and pressure on voting on Election Day.”

Missoula County elections supervisor Bradley Seaman said the concerns of holding the election in the standard polling places were many.

Among them, many election judges are considered members of the high-risk population given their age, and asking them to staff polling places would place them at unnecessary risk.

Seaman also said that holding a polling place election costs more money. Staffing the county’s 28 polling places would require around 650 paid election judges. The county only has 300 trained election judges on hand and would need to double that number if Bullock hadn’t issued his directive.

“We’re really excited about the governor’s directive,” Seaman said Thursday. “We’ve been in the process of trying to determine which polling places would be open and available to us on election day. With the governor’s directive, we’re given a clear path toward the safest, healthiest way to run an election, where we’ll send every active voter a ballot in the mail.”

The directive allows an expanded timeline for voter registration, ballot distribution and early voting. It extends the closure of voter registration to 10 days before the election.

County election administrators will be able to make ballots available starting on Oct. 2 and through the end of the election. Mail-in ballots will be sent on Oct. 9.

“I am in agreement with our bipartisan election administrators – who are the ones on the ground with the first-hand knowledge of how to successfully conduct an election – that we must protect Montanans’ right to vote, while protecting the public’s health,” Bullock said.