Gallatin County Courthouse File

The Gallatin County Courthouse is shown in this August 2018 file photo.

Gallatin County voters will soon receive ballots in the mail for this year’s school district elections.

The elections department sent the ballots Monday and needs them returned no later than May 7, at 8 p.m. The results likely will be released a few hours later, said Eric Semerad, the county clerk and recorder.

Ten school districts — Anderson, Belgrade, Big Sky, Bozeman, LaMotte, Monforton, Shields Valley, Three Forks, West Yellowstone and Willow Creek — are holding elections. Voters will select school trustees for three-year terms and decide whether to allow their districts to levy taxes to fund a range of projects from building repairs to elementary and high school technology upgrades to affordable housing for teachers.

Three Forks and Willow Creek school districts include multiple counties, but Gallatin County conducts their elections. Shields Valley, which includes Gallatin and Park county voters, is the only district not holding a mail-in ballot election and instead will open a polling place at Shields Valley High School in Clyde Park on May 7.

Voters can return their ballots by mail or drop them off at the Belgrade School District office, Monforton School District office or the courthouse in Bozeman.

Ballots went out to 67,026 people, making this the largest mail-in election the county has ever held, Semerad said.

Those who have lived in Gallatin County for at least 30 days and don’t receive a ballot by mail can register to vote at the courthouse. Once they register, they will be handed a ballot.

Since the Ballot Interference Protection Act passed as a referendum in the November election, the elections department must follow new rules. Those who drop off other voters’ ballots in person must complete a form indicating their relationship to the voter. The elections department sends the completed form to the Commissioner of Political Practices, which may use them if it receives election-related complaints.

Voters are limited to turning in six ballots that are not their own. However, if someone hands in more than the six allowed ballots, the elections department will still count the votes.

“They’re trying to limit ballot harvesting,” Semerad said.

The change to state law comes as North Carolina is holding a new election for a U.S. House seat after the state’s November election was recalled because a resident illegally collected and tampered with hundreds of absentee ballots.

If Gov. Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 162 before May 7, Gallatin County will likely use a new process for counting ballots, which could speed up the task. The bill would enable elections departments to begin processing absentee ballots the Thursday before election day — two days sooner than is currently allowed.

“It is fantastic for large counties because rather than backloading all the work … now we can front-load that work and have it happen on Monday, so we can get results when polls close Tuesday,” Semerad said.

The elections department also is gearing up for the county’s municipal elections. Filing opened Thursday and primaries — if they’re needed — will be Sept. 10.

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