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Montana elections officials gearing up for all-mail election

Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 20:08:53-04

Local election officials across Montana are moving forward with plans to conduct a mail ballot election this November, in spite of a handful of lawsuits that could potentially impact who's on the ballot and how the election is held.

In Billings, the ballots are getting printed this week. Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford says it's really too late to change.

"We're geared up for mail ballot at this point," Rutherford said Tuesday. "To turn over to a polling place election at this point, you need to reorder your ballot stocks, it needs to have stubs on it. There are all these little ins and outs in statute that are very different from a mail ballot and a polling place election. And then of course you're trying to find election judges and making sure that polling places are open and even available any more."

Rutherford pointed to the recent closing of the Shepherd schools for a deep cleaning due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

"Could that happen on Nov. 2 or 3?" said Rutherford. "We just don't know right now."

And there is also the issue of cost. Local governments are on the hook to pay for all elections, even federal elections. Rutherford says the cost of staffing 20 or more polling places across the county adds up quickly.

"Honestly, that's another reason why I like mail ballots, because we generally save about 33 percent right off the top, if the polls aren't open," Rutherford said. "Basically it's a staffing situation. You've got to have 200 to 250 people working on one day, you're spending $30 to $40,000 on labor, so it adds up pretty quickly."

One of the first looming deadlines Rutherford is facing comes up this Friday, the day ballots need to be in the mail to military voters.

"That deadline is Friday, so we've got to start printing now," said Rutherford. " We've already got all our envelopes and everything ready to go, we need to get stuff in the mail."

As Rutherford prepares to get ballots printed and mailed out, he's keeping a wary eye on multiple lawsuits that could have major implications for this fall's election.

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a last-minute effort to reinstate Green Party candidates to the Montana ballot. Plus, Montana is also among five states that President Tump's campaign sued last week in an attempt to stop mail-in voting. That case is still pending.