Voting

Elizabeth Meyn, left, shows a voter how to properly place ballots in the ballot box Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at the Gallatin County Courthouse in Bozeman.

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Gallatin County is setting up ballot drop-off locations for the Nov. 3 election, which is being conducted by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 9 to active registered voters.

From Oct. 9 to Nov. 2, voters will be able to return their ballots during regular business hours at the county election office in Bozeman, the Associated Students of Montana State University office, the Big Sky Water and Sewer District office and the clerk’s offices in Belgrade, Manhattan, Three Forks and West Yellowstone.

Many of those places are also used as ballot drop-off locations during municipal elections, so staff there is experienced in assisting with elections and voters should be familiar with them, said election manager Casey Hayes.

The drop-off locations will also be open on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There will be additional drop-off locations on Election Day — the county fairgrounds in Bozeman, Hope Lutheran Church in Bozeman, Belgrade Special Events Center, River Rock Community Center, Gallatin Gateway Community Center, Manhattan Christian High School and Bridger Canyon Fire Station.

The use of drop-off locations is different from the mail-ballot June primary during which voters could only return their ballots at the election office in Bozeman in the month before the election.

Ballots can also be returned by mail. Return postage is provided.

“This is not intended to avoid the Postal Service,” Hayes said. “We have been assured by local and regional officials that election mail will be prioritized. We’re just providing more options.”

On Election Day, residents will be able to vote in-person at the election office from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Everyone in line at 8 p.m. will be able to vote.

The election won’t be a change for most Gallatin County residents because the majority already cast their ballots by mail as absentee voters. In 2018, just 18% of voters appeared in-person, Hayes said.

Park County will also be holding the November election by mail.

Before Nov. 3, voters will be able to drop their ballots off at the election office in Livingston, said clerk and recorder Maritza Reddington.

On Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., voters will be able to return ballots at Emigrant Hall, Gardiner Public Schools, St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Clyde Park and the county fairgrounds in Livingston.

“The plan protects the fundamental right to vote while reducing the potential for COVID-19 spread among crowds of voters, poll workers and election judges at in-person polling places,” Reddington said in a news release. “It also prevents potential problems that could ensue if a COVID-19 outbreak forced us to close or consolidate polling places at the last minute.”

In Madison County, the election’s office will be the only ballot drop-off location.

“The primary was so successful that we are working to replicate what we did then,” clerk and recorder Kathleen Mumme said.

Counties had until Friday to notify the secretary of state’s office whether they would be conducting a mail-ballot or polling-place election in November. The secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to a request for information on how counties will be running the election, but the majority of counties have said they will be holding a mail-ballot election.

Gov. Steve Bullock chose to let counties hold the election by mail in response to a request from county election officials who worried about the feasibility of holding a polling-place election during a pandemic.

Donald J. Trump for President, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Montana Republican State Central Committee are now suing Bullock and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton over his decision.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.