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Montana

We see several areas in which we recommend Montana could implement voter-centric reforms. Montana encouraged the expansion of absentee and early voting throughout the 2020 cycle, and can continue to strengthen its election system by codifying these changes for future elections. In addition, Montana can further improve by taking the next big step in access by transitioning to permanent Vote by Mail. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

By transitioning to Vote By Mail permanently, as 46 of 56 counties chose to in 2020, Montana can continue the excellent progress made to expand voter access and convenience. As states transition to Vote By Mail, during the first few election cycles states see a precipitous drop in in-person voting. Once this happens, Montana can save a substantial amount by consolidating polling locations into vote centers.
Creating an online portal for voters to register to vote and request an absentee ballot that feeds directly into the voter registration system is an important step to help verify addresses, collect contact information, and remove administrative steps to process a large amount of applications. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register and allows current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
Providing prepaid postage is a voter-centric reform that ensures there are no financial barriers to the vote. While executive orders temporarily implemented prepaid postage in 2020, the state should make prepaid postage permanent for all future elections.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost-effective tool to improve Montana’s current ballot tracking system. It adds a layer of data for the elections office and provides a means of contacting voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence and participation.
Voters should have sufficient time to correct any issues with their ballot In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected. Montana’s current cure deadline of election day leaves many voters behind. We recommend implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.
Expanding accepting of ballots with Election Day postmarks received shortly after election day is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner, and one that Montana already follows: Montana already offers postmark acceptance for military and overseas voters. Accepting Election Day postmarks is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half.
Offering secure drop boxes as another method for voters to return ballots is a cost-effective way to reduce strain on the postal system, and boxes are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want an extra bit of reassurance that their ballot makes it to the elections office on time. We highly recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling places, vote centers, and drop boxes, as well as other locations deemed necessary by the clerk.
We highly recommend creating vote centers, or polling locations where any voter in the county can vote. This is a way to streamline the system so over time, as the share of the vote cast by mail increases, counties can have fewer overall polling locations, while individual voters will have more voting location options.
Current law only allows voters to cure any fixable issues with their ballots by election day, leaving out any voters whose ballots haven’t been processed by then so they have no chance to ensure their ballots aren’t needlessly rejected. Extending the amount of time voters have to cure issues with their ballot envelopes would reduce rejection rates, and we recommend allowing cures for at least 5 days after election and implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.

Recent Legislation

As of May 19, 2021

In response to the pandemic, Governor Bullock issued EOs 2-2020 and 3-2020, which allowed spring school district elections and the June primary election to be held entirely by mail. It specified that all-mail elections would be required to expand access to early in-person voting and to mail ballots at least 25 days before the election. It mandated that mail-in ballots include a notice informing voters that they did not have to include postage. It also urged Montanans living in counties and school districts not conducting all-mail elections to take advantage of Montana’s existing provision allowing no-excuse absentee voting. It encouraged counties to explore options for drive-up voter registration and voting and to otherwise promote voting by mail and early voting.

Additionally, during its 2021 session, the Montana Legislature passed several bills related to election law. These include:

HB 176: This bill repealed the provision that allowed same-day voter registration throughout the early voting period. In the future, registration will close on the Friday before election day.

HB 429: This bill limited the Governor’s powers to suspend election laws or change the manner of elections during states of emergency; now, the Governor must obtain the Legislature’s approval before making such changes.

SB 169: This bill amended voter ID requirements, including requirements for mail-in voters; these amendments do not significantly change Montanan voters’ access to ballots.

SB 170: This bill changed how often the State must check the national change of address files in order to de-register doubly-registered voters.

SB 93: This bill allows political parties to appoint at least one poll watcher to observe any ballot drop box used during a mail ballot election.