Published March 25, 2020 (Updated June 3, 2020)
Update: Click the Link Below to Access the 2020 Primary Election Results
2020 Primary Election Results

Governor Issues Directive Allowing Counties to Hold Primary via Mail Ballot

Download Directive HereImportant Points
All 56 Montana Counties Opted to Conduct the Primary Election via Mail Ballot

Governor Steve Bullock issued a Directive (linked above), on March 25th, to ensure all eligible Montanans can safely vote in the 2020 June primary by allowing counties to expand voting by mail and early voting. This is not a statewide mandate; it is 100% local choice, and it’s ONLY for the June 2020 Primary Election.  All counties, regardless of opting in to conduct the election via mail ballot, will be required to implement social distancing measures for election procedures.

Governor Bullock consulted with county election administrators, public health experts, emergency management professionals, the Secretary of State, and political leaders from both parties to determine the safest way to proceed with school elections and the June primary while protecting the rights of Montanans to vote safely.

Although the election is not until June 2nd, important deadlines are approaching, and more will be on the tails of those, so a decision regarding the election itself had to be made.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow across the United States and in Montana, the CDC has encouraged states to use voting methods that limit direct contact. By acting now, Montana can make appropriate adjustments to hold a fair and accessible June primary election while minimizing community transmission of COVID-19.

MACo worked diligently with the Governor’s Office on this Directive, and while we did not get every tiny thing requested, we did get a great deal, and we (MACo, the Clerk & Recorders/Election Administrators Association, and the Governor’s Office) collectively made it significantly better for the masses across the state to vote safely, so we believe this to be an enormous win for everyone in the state.

Immediate Next Steps for Election Administrators Running Mail Ballot Primary

Initiation of Mail Ballot Election

Immediate Next Step: Initiation of Mail Ballot Election

This can be done in one of two ways:

1. County Commissioners Request Mail Ballot Election by Resolution

  • Resolution must be passed by April 2nd (written plan due to SOS by April 3rd).
  • Sample resolutions from Lewis & Clark County & Gallatin County are linked below.
  • Election Administrator (EA) has right to refuse and conduct a poll election instead.
  • EA should respond in writing if they agree or not within 5 days of receiving resolution.
    – If EA agrees, EA also sends a copy of written plan to the Board of County Commissioners.
  • Refer to 13-19-202, MCA
  • As always, check with your County Attorney.

2. Election Administrator Determines to Conduct Election by Mail Ballot

  • Letter must be sent to County Commissioners.
  • Written plan for the election must be included with the letter.
  • You must tell the County Commissioners about their option to refuse and require a poll election instead.
    – They must pass a resolution including the reasons for their objection, and file it with EA 55 days prior to election, which is April 8th in this case, as per 13-19-204, MCA.
  • Sample language for the letter is linked below.
  • Refer to 13-19-203, MCA
  • As always, check with your County Attorney.

If you have questions about the resolution and/or the letter to your Commissioners, please check with your County Attorney. You should have this process completed by April 2nd.

Written Plan

According to the Governor’s Directive on March 25th, all  2020 Primary election Mail Ballot Plans must be received by the Secretary of State (SOS) no later than 60 days before the election, which is April 3rd.  Complete, save, and email the fillable form, created by the SOS Office, below to soselectionshelp@service.mt.gov no later than 5 p.m. on April 3rd. This document may be amended until the 35th day before the election.

Important Details from the Governor's Directive

Important Directive Details — Election Administrators, Please Review with Your County Attorney

In accordance with the authority vested in Montana’s Governor under the Constitution, Article VI, Sections 4 and 13, and the laws of the State of Montana, Title 10, Chapter 3 and Title 50, Chapter 1, MCA, and other applicable provisions of the Constitution and Montana Law, it was hereby directed on March 25th, 2020, that the following measures be in place in the State of Montana effective immediately:

1.  School elections may be conducted by mail; deadline extended

  • The deadline to submit plans to conduct a school election by mail is extended to April 1, 2020. Any jurisdiction that did not submit a plan for a school election by mail may now do so until April 1, 2020.
    – Consistent with this Directive, strict compliance with the deadline for submission of such plans as it pertains to school elections in the spring of 2020, provided in §§ 13-19-201, MCA, et seq., and related statutes is suspended.

2. Counties permitted to conduct mail ballot elections and expanded early voting

  • Counties in Montana are permitted, but not required, to conduct the June 2 primary election under the mail ballot provisions of Title 13, Chapter 19.
  • Section 13-19-104(3)(a), MCA is suspended for this purpose only.
    – The mail provisions of Title 13, Chapter 19 apply, except as otherwise specified below or elsewhere in this Directive.
  • Counties that opt in must also expand opportunities for early voting by:
    – Making ballots available at the election administrator’s office or other designated location from May 4, 2020, until the end of the election.
    – Allowing voters to apply for, receive, and mark a ballot in-person in a manner consistent with the provisions of § 13-13-222, MCA.
    – If an elector marks a ballot in-person under this provision, and has also been sent a mail ballot, the election administrator shall mark the mailed ballot as void in the statewide voter registration system.
    – For counties identified in the settlement Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, there must be a satellite voting office capable of providing the early voting services described above from May 4, 2020, until the end of the election in accordance with their agreements.
    – Provisions of Title 13, Chapter 19 that are inconsistent with this Directive are suspended to the extent necessary to achieve conformity with the above.
    – To expand voting access and provide voters the most time possible to vote early or return a mail ballot, counties that opt in shall send mail ballots 25 days before the end of the election, on May 8, 2020, consistent with the timeline for absentee ballots provided in § 13-13-205, MCA. Strict compliance with the standard 20-day time period for mail ballots provided in § 13-19-207, MCA, is suspended.
  • Counties that choose to opt in must submit a written plan to the Secretary of State under the provisions of §§ 13-19-201, MCA, et seq., MCA, though the deadline for political subdivisions to request a June 2, 2020 primary mail ballot election at § 13-19-202(2), MCA, is suspended until April 2, 2020.
  • Counties that opt in must include a prominent notice with instructions sent to voters with mail ballots that a postage stamp is not necessary to return the ballot by mail.
  • Counties that opt in may seek reimbursement from the state Department of Administration for postage costs incurred by voters returning a ballot through the mail, to be paid from the fund provided at § 10-3-312, MCA, or through federal emergency assistance and response funds if available, subject to the approval of the Office of Budget and Program Planning. Further guidance will be distributed to counties on how to obtain this reimbursement.
    – Nothing in this Directive prevents counties from seeking additional reimbursement from the federal government or the Secretary of State if federal emergency assistance is made available.

3. Measures Required for Safe Registration and Voting

  • All counties, regardless of whether a county invokes the mail ballot and early voting provisions described above, shall establish, implement, and enforce social distancing policies sufficient to ensure a minimum of six feet of distance between individuals at polling locations, designated drop-off locations, or public-facing portions of facilities involved in voting.
  • To minimize the need for in-person registration or lines for registration near the end of the election period, the close of regular voter registration provided at § 13-2-301(a), MCA, is suspended until 10 days before the end of the election.
    – It is the responsibility of any individual who does not register in-person before the election to ensure that they receive and return a ballot before the end of the election, either under mail ballot/early vote procedures provided in this directive for individuals registered in counties that opt in, or through typical voting procedures in a county that does not.
  • Counties are encouraged to explore drive-up options for voting, registration, and other voter services. Counties are also encouraged to promote the availability of early voting or voting by mail. Finally, counties are encouraged to use the designated places of deposit provisions of Title 13, Chapter 19, provided that these too are administered consistent with social distancing guidelines.

Authorities of the Governor for the Directive

Section 10-3-104, MCA; Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020; Montana Constitution, Art. VI, Section 4 and Section 13; §§ 10-3-103, -302, and -305, MCA; §§ 50-1-202, -203, and -204, MCA; and all other applicable provisions of state and federal law.

Limitations

  • This Directive is effective immediately and expires at the end of the declared state of emergency in Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020.
  • This Directive shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
  • This Directive is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the State of Montana, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Stubs & Mail Ballot Log of Ballots Received

For those who have not run a mail ballot election, mail ballots do not require a stub.  The MTVotes system will tell you how many ballots you will be sending out, and you will reconcile them as they come back just as you would absentees. 13-19-308(1), MCA talks about a log.  For those who have run mail ballot, I am sure you have a system for tracking.  If you are new to mail ballot, there is a log sheet on the SOS website, which is attached to this email.  You may find this a useful tool to help you track your ballots going out and coming in.

Postage Reimbursement

In response to Governor Bullock’s Directive Implementing Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020 and providing for measures to implement the 2020 June primary election safely, Local Government Services (LGS) has developed a process for counties to claim postage reimbursement for mail ballots returned by voters.

To claim postage reimbursement, submit a completed Return Postage Reimbursement form, along with supporting documentation (stamp receipt(s), printing company receipt(s), post office postage due statement(s)) to LGS at LGSPortalRegistration@mt.gov. Only one form may be submitted per county and shall be submitted by June 30, 2020. Counties can anticipate payment within 14 days of approval. For questions, please contact the LGS help desk.