Missoula County on Thursday placed its official stamp on holding an all-mail election this November, saying the process worked well in the June Primary by increasing voter participation and reducing wait times.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still an issue, the all-mail approach will help reduce any risks to voters and election judges. The November ballot will be full of high-profile races, resulting in what's expected to be high voter turnout.

“A mail ballot election was incredibly successful for our June election in the Primary,” said county election administrator Bradley Seaman. “We had more than a 12% increase in voter turnout. We had far less wait times on Election Day than we've seen in a polling place election.”

Gov. Steve Bullock last week issued a directive allowing counties to opt in for an all-mail election. The directive allows for an expanded timeline for voter registration, ballot distribution and early voting. It also extends the closure of voter registration to 10 days before the election.

Seaman said all registered voters in Missoula County will receive a ballot in the mail on Oct. 9.

“Polling places will be closed on Election Day, but in person voting will be available and open to voters who opt to vote in that path starting on Oct. 2,” Seaman said. “We would actually be providing 212 hours of in-person voting for people who chose to vote in person, as well as increasing our ADA access on Election Day and drop-off locations for voters around the entire county.”

Seaman said the county will likely double its number of drop off locations from six in the Primary to 12 in the General Election. Exact locations will be detailed soon, he said.

All ballots sent via mail will include return postage, though the county will only be charged for that postage if the ballot is actually sent back in the mail. Seaman said the county will not be charged for postage if a voter drops his or her ballot at a drop-off location.

“We have been working actively through our budgetary requests and USPS to provide business reply mail on these,” he said. “We will only pay return postage on the ballots that are mailed back to us. Any voter who decides to use a drop-off location, Missoula County taxpayers don't pay for return postage on those ballots.”

Under Bullock's directive, postage costs incurred by a county that opts for an all-mail election will be covered by the state or other funding sources, officials said.

“We will be seeking reimbursement for postage,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “Hopefully there will be little if any impact on Missoula County property taxpayers for this.”