In the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8, statewide candidates up and down the ballot are lighting up the state, crisscrossing Montana to make final pitches to constituents in hopes of earning 11th-hour endorsements as scores of early voters have already made up their minds .
The Flathead Valley has hosted multiple campaign stops for both gubernatorial candidates in the past several weeks, as well as for contenders in all statewide races from both major parties.
Montana’s top Democratic candidates launched a statewide get-out-the-vote campaign in Kalispell on Nov. 2, when incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock rallied supporters alongside Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, the Democratic candidate for the state’s only U.S. House seat. The Democratic slate then set out for a statewide tour that included 17 communities from Havre to Harlem and Butte to Billings.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte also held a presence in Northwest Montana this week, visiting Columbia Falls, Browning, Eureka, and Libby on Nov. 4, while U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, was in town stumping, too.
But a ballot in-hand doesn’t necessarily mean your vote is in the bag, particularly if you’re relying on the U.S. Postal Service this late in the election cycle. To that end, election officials are strongly urging hand-delivery over a stamp and a mailbox flag.
Beginning Friday, Nov. 4, Flathead County Elections Administrator Debbie Pierson said absentee voters should bring their ballots to the elections office in person, or hand-deliver them to any polling place in Flathead County on Election Day.
“We are recommending at this point that folks hand carry their ballots to our office or plan to drop them at a polling place on election day,” Pierson said.
New this year, the Flathead County Election Department is adding two exterior drive-thru drop boxes, located at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, as well as one in the alley at the election office at the South Campus Building, 40-11th St. W., Kalispell.
Ballots must be received by the time polls close on Tuesday, and cannot merely be postmarked by then, she said.
Meanwhile, the secretary of state’s office has meted out 340,749 ballots to registered Montana voters, and, as of Friday, reported that 253,528, or 74 percent of the ballots, were returned.
There are a total of 683,634 registered voters in Montana, with nearly half having been mailed absentee ballots.
If this year follows the pattern of the past three election cycles, a majority of voters will have already cast their ballots by the time Election Day rolls around, but that hasn’t dissuaded candidates from ramping up their campaigns to a fever pitch in the final days to sway undecided voters.
Absentee voting is strong in Flathead County, where 66,337 registered voters reside and 26,976 absentee ballots have been sent to voters, with 19,450, or 72 percent, returned.
Here’s a breakdown of absentee voting in Montana’s other seven most-populated counties:
In Missoula County, where 82,472 registered voters reside, 45,534 absentee ballots have been sent while 30,953, or 68 percent, were returned.
In Lewis and Clark County, where 44,789 registered voters reside, 22,889 absentee ballots have been sent, while 18,086, or 79 percent, were returned.
In Yellowstone County, where 95,085 registered voters reside, 63,268 absentee ballots have been sent, while 49,702, or 79 percent, were returned.
In Gallatin County, where 74,560 registered voters reside, 43,132 absentee ballots have been sent, while 29,380, or 68 percent, were returned.
In Cascade County, where 52,860 voters reside, 29,482 absentee ballots have been sent, while 21,652, or 73 percent, were returned.
In Ravalli County, where 29,750 voters reside, 13,077 absentee ballots have been sent, while 10,305, or 79 percent, were returned.
In Silver Bow County, where 21,435 registered voters reside, 9,784 absentee ballots have been sent, while 7,723, or 79 percent, were returned.
Check out your voter registration status, polling place or legislative district map here.
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