By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
GALLATIN COUNTY – Registered voters in Gallatin County will have the option to utilize mail-in ballots when casting their votes in the upcoming November general elections. This follows the Gallatin County Commission voting 2-1 in favor of the mail-in ballot option on Aug. 18.
Gov. Steve Bullock issued a state directive on Aug. 6 affording each respective Montana county the option to utilize a mail-in ballot voting method in the general elections. “As with the March 25, 2020 Directive, this Directive permits counties, at their local discretion, to expand access to voting by mail and early voting,” the directive states.
Ballots and accompanying return postage materials will be mailed on Oct. 9 to registered voters within the county in advance of the Nov. 3 general election deadline, according to the Gallatin County Election Department.
Voters have the option to mail ballots through the U.S. Postal Service or return their completed ballots to the election department office or any other ballot return location until the evening of Nov. 3. Expanded election department hours—7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.—will begin on Oct. 2 and expand to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. In addition to the mail-in ballot option, registered voters may also elect to cast their vote in-person at the election department or the newly announced traveling election office this election season.
“We’re as prepared as we can be inside of a pandemic. There’s constant planning, changes in planning [and] accommodations of changes,” said Casey Hayes, election manager for the Gallatin County Election Department. “So, just like with every election we’ve been preparing for an extended period of time and as we approach the election day, or the canvas, or whatever the event is inside of the election calendar, proper planning allows us that success that the voters expect.”
In a recent press release, the election department also announced the addition of a traveling election office available throughout October as it moves around Gallatin County. For more than three weeks the mobile office will visit locations in Belgrade, Three Forks, Manhattan, West Yellowstone, Big Sky and Bozeman.
“Gallatin County voters will have the opportunity to register to vote, update their voter registration, and receive a ballot in-person,” the press release states. “Except for the location on the campus of Montana State University, these services will be provided at an administrative trailer located in the parking lots of the respective locations, not within the buildings themselves.”
Accompanying the traveling election office, election officials said seven ballot return locations will begin accepting completed ballots on the day they are sent to voters. Two locations in Bozeman as well as one each in Belgrade, Manhattan, Three Forks, West Yellowstone and Big Sky, will accept ballots via metal return boxes throughout their typical hours and even longer hours on election day, according to the press release.
“We’re trying to provide as many opportunities within local communities to get voters registered [and] issued ballots so that they don’t need to appear at the election office and certainly so that they don’t have to appear on election day,” Hayes said. “All of this is to enable voters to be registered, get a ballot and vote their ballot prior to election day.”
On Nov. 3, seven more locations in the county will become ballot return spots, accepting completed ballots for the duration of the day. “With the exception of the Gallatin County Election Department, these locations serve only for depositing of voted ballots,” a Sept. 3 press release said.
Voter data from the Montana Secretary of State’s office showed roughly 48 percent of registered Gallatin County voters submitted ballots in the 2020 primary election, a 14 percent increase from the 34 percent of registered voters that cast their votes in the 2018 primaries.
In 2016, 74 percent of registered Gallatin County voters submitted ballots in the general elections—the highest recorded percentage since 1992, according to data from the Montana Secretary of State’s office.
Visit gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/election-department or call 406-582-3060 for more information on voter registration, the traveling election office schedule and ballot return locations.