Montana Expands Mail Ballot, Early Voting for Primaries

Directive aims to allow elections to proceed without risking health and safety of voters and poll workers amid coronavirus outbreak

By Associated Press

HELENA — Montana counties and school districts will be able to conduct elections by mail and expand early voting for the June 2 primary elections and school elections this spring, Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday.

Bullock signed a directive that aims to allow the elections to proceed without risking the health and safety of voters and poll workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The governor’s order allows, but doesn’t require, counties to conduct primary elections by mail. Ballots would be available starting May 4. A postage stamp would not be required to mail a ballot.

The governor’s order gives school districts additional time to plan for all-mail elections on school issues.

In-person voting would still be allowed, and polling places would be required to enforce at least six feet of separation between two people.

“The default would be that Montanans can vote without leaving home, while the option to vote in-person remains,” Bullocks wrote in the directive. “The opposite presumption exists now, and could pose serious public health risks under the trying and unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Counties also are encouraged to explore drive-up options for registration and voting, according to the order.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

— While Montana’s public schools are closed through at least April 10, the state’s Roman Catholic Dioceses are asking Catholic to continue remote teaching and remain closed through May 4.

— Some Montana businesses are announcing major layoffs. Fairmont Hot Springs has temporarily laid off 148 employees as its bookings fell due to travel restrictions meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. With the closing of the hotel pools and restaurants and bars, general manager Steve Luebeck estimated they will lose $1.5 million in revenue. He said his business interruption insurance has told him “civil order closures” are not covered.

— Teachers from elementary, middle and high schools in East Helena drove through a neighborhood Wednesday honking their horns and waving at students. Their vehicles had signs or window paintings saying they loved the students and missed them. One sign said “Stay Healthy.” School officials said the teachers drove through neighborhoods in the city of East Helena on Tuesday and planned to take their parade to more rural neighborhoods on Thursday.

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