Cascade County considering mail ballot for November election during Aug. 18 special meeting

During a special meeting Aug. 18, County Commissioners will consider a mail ballot election for the November general election.

Cascade County Election Administrator Rina Moore wrote that she has “determined that a mail ballot election is the most economically and administratively feasible way of conducting the election.”

On Aug. 6, Gov. Steve Bullock issued executive orders allowing counties to expand voting by mail and early voting for the November general election.

In-person voting would still be available.

As of March, countywide, there were 45,705 active and inactive voters. Of those, 36,952 are active and of those 31,771 are absentee, according to county figures. The Electric will update these numbers this week.

A similar process was used in the June primary election and in July, the bipartisan Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders and Election Administrators as well as the Montana Association of Counties requested that Bullock again give counties the option to conduct a mail ballot election in November.

Bullock gives counties option to do June primary by mail due to COVID-19; Cascade County will do mail ballot

Moore us prepared a written plan and submitted it to commissioners that includes:

  • a timetable for the election
  • sample written instructions that will be sent to the electors
  • information on the estimated amount of postage required to return the ballot
  • the location of the places of deposit and the days and times when ballots may be returned to the places of deposit
  • other applicable instructions specified under MCA $ l3- l3-214(4) such as
    • instructions for voting
    • information concerning the type or types of writing instruments that may be used
    • information regarding use of the secrecy envelope and
    • use of the signature envelope.

The plan will be forwarded to the Secretary of State’s office for its approval. Once it is approved by the Secretary of State’s Office the elections office can proceed with conducting the election, according to Moore.

COVID-19 driving changes to election cycle

County Commissioners can object to Moore’s decision to hold a mail ballot election and if they do so, they can adopt a resolution stating their reasons and that needs to be filed with Moore by Sept. 9.

Moore is requesting that commissioners support her decision, as they did in the spring for the June primary election.

The Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders and Election Administrators and the Montana Association of Counties in their request stressed the ethical concerns with following standard election procedures, which would produce serious risks for voters and poll workers alike—effectively forcing Montanans to choose between their safety and the right to vote. The election administrators also stressed the chaos that could follow if polling locations are closed at the last minute or if counties are forced to consolidate polling locations in response to outbreaks.

“The option to provide mail ballots while expanding early voting will protect Montanans’ right to vote, while protecting the public’s health. The CDC has recognized that in person voting on election day increases the risk of transmitting COVID-19, and has urged states to use voting methods that reduce crowd size. Many Montana election workers are over the age of 60 and are often in close proximity to each other, large crowds, and interact with paper, pens, and other items that could be infected and exchanged frequently,” according to release from Bullock’s office.

Bullock’s directive also provides expanded timelines for voter registration, ballot distribution, and early voting opportunities by extending the close of regular voter registration until 10 days before the election to minimize the need for in-person registration or lines. County election administrators will be able to make ballots available from Oct. 2 until the end of the election. Mail-in ballots will be sent on Oct. 9 and no postage will be required to return ballots by mail.