Upcoming elections to be conducted by mail

| April 10, 2020 8:33 AM

Following the recommendation of Gov. Steve Bullock, officials in Lincoln County have opted to conduct the May school election and the June primary via mail.

Registered voters should receive ballots in the mail, officials said in a press release. For the May 5 election, only voters in the Libby School District No. 4 will receive ballots, while ballots for the June 2 primary will get sent out to all registered voters in Lincoln County.

“This decision was not made lightly, but ultimately the health and safety of our election judges and of the voting public and their families is our highest priority,” read the statement released by the county Election Department announcing the decision.

Bullock gave counties the choice of how to conduct elections as concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic have mounted. Carrying on with traditional elections likely would exacerbate the spread of the disease, said Bullock, who indicated he had consulted with both elected officials and healthcare professionals on the issue.

“Other jurisdictions have also identified traditional election procedures as posing an enhanced risk to public health and human safety,” Bullock said in a March 25 statement. “Unfortunately, these factors are present in Montana’s typical election procedures as well: election workers, many of whom are aged 60 or older, in close proximity to one another; large crowds or lines congregating in a limited number of locations; and the exchange of papers, pens, and other possible vectors for infection.”

Local officials are urging voters ensure their registration is current so as to ease the process. Ballots, they warned, cannot be forwarded. Postage is not required to mail the ballot back.

Voter registration forms are available online at www.sosmt.gov/elections/vote/ or at www.lincolncountymt.us/elections/elections-home, but cannot be submitted via the Internet. Completed forms must be sent to a voter’s local election administrator office. That address for Lincoln County voters is: 512 California Ave., Libby, MT 59923.

Voters seeking to check the status of their registration are encouraged to head to the “My Voter Page” at the Montana Secretary of State’s website at https://app.met.gov/voterinfo/.

How to conduct an election in an era of pandemic has become an increasingly important question in recent weeks. In Maryland, officials opted to offer select in-person polling locations for the June primary while also mailing out absentee ballots to voters.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania voted in late March to delay that commonwealth’s primary until June and give voters the option of mailing in ballots. The original April date looked likely to coincide with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

In Wisconsin, the debate over how to safely conduct its April 7 turned into a political tempest. After initially planning to go ahead with the state’s election as usual, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, later changed his mind, according to the Washington Post. But Republican state lawmakers rejected the move and the matter ended up in court.

A U.S. District Court judge sided with Democrats, ruling that state election officials should count absentee ballots through April 13 regardless of the postmarked date. On April 6, the U.S. Supreme Court split along partisan lines, ruling to restrict the ballots counted to those mailed by April 7. The decision effectively meant that voters who had not requested absentee ballots prior to the election date must turn out to polling stations to participate.

Back in Lincoln County, officials said they were willing to answer questions and lend assistance in ensuring voters were able to cast ballots in the two elections. Election Administrator Leigh Riggleman can be reached at 406-283-2302 and Deputy Clerk and Assistant Election Administrator Chris Nelson can be phoned at 406-283-2306.

“We would like to thank everyone in advance for their understanding during this time,” officials said in a statement. “We will continue to work tirelessly to provide the public with exemplary voter services. If anyone has questions we will gladly assist you and answer any questions you might have.”