Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive Wednesday allowing all Montana counties to conduct all-mail elections and to increase early voting for the June 2 primary.
The directive is aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 by limiting large crowds at polling places statewide, Bullock said in a news release.
“This is about protecting Montanans’ right to vote at a time we face unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bullock, a Democrat, said in a statement. “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. I feel confident we can protect both the public’s health and the right to vote with this direction.”
Montana Speaker of the House Greg Hertz, a Republican from Polson, gave his bipartisan support for the action.
“I am in full support of Governor Bullock’s Directive of providing counties the option to conduct our June 2nd primary by mail,” said Hertz in a release from Bullock's office. “This Directive allows counties to choose what is best for their voters and election staff during this state of emergency.”
The directive contains three central components:
- (1) Providing school districts with additional time to choose to conduct mail ballot elections
- (2) Allowing counties the choice to conduct mail ballot elections and expand early voting for the June 2, 2020 primary election
- (3) Requiring counties to establish, implement, and enforce social distancing policies at polling locations, designated drop-off locations, or other public-facing portions of facilities involved in voting.
The directive provides that even when a county decides to adopt a mail ballot for the June primary election, Montanans are still permitted to vote in person during the thirty-day voting window—even if they have received a mail ballot.
If counties opt in to mail voting for the June primary, they must promptly submit plans to do so. Mail ballots would be released on May 8 and early voting would be available in person through the close of the primary election on June 2.
Additionally, voters will not be required to pay postage to return their ballots by mail.
Counties are also required to implement social distancing in all aspects of the election. They must designate six feet of distance between people at polling places, ballot drop-off spots and other public spaces involved in voting.
The directive also extends the close of regular voter registration until 10 days before the election to minimize the need for in-person registration or lines.