A court ruling that allows election ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by June 2 is being challenged by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. Previously only ballots that arrived by the date of the election could be counted.
State District Court Judge Donald Harris on Friday temporarily suspended the state law that said ballots must be received in a county election office by 8 p.m. on election day. Now, ballots that are postmarked by June 2 can still be counted as long as they arrive by the following Monday, the judge said.
That Monday, June 8, also is the deadline for receipt of federal write-in ballots for military and overseas voters.
The primary is being held by mail because of the coronavirus.
Fox, who is running for governor in the Republican primary, said the last-minute suspension could have a negative impact on Montana voters, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported. He asked in a court filing for the ruling to be put on hold and for the dispute to be decided by the Supreme Court.
The ruling, Fox wrote “creates inequality between voters who have mailed their ballots in early in compliance with the deadline who might otherwise have waited, and those who waited and are now able to submit on Election Day.”
Harris said the inconsistency in how long it takes the U.S. Postal Service to deliver a mailed ballot presented a significant burden for absentee voters. Delivery times around the state can vary by as much as two weeks, and people who mail their ballot before this year’s June 2 primary have no guarantee it will be delivered in time to be counted, he said.
The ruling came in a lawsuit from state Sen. Robyn Driscoll of Billings, the Montana Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“There is no good reason why Montanans should have their otherwise valid ballot thrown out because it takes too long to arrive in the mail,” Driscoll said in response to Fox’s request for a hold on Harris’ ruling.
Attorneys for the state had argued in the case that ballot deadline laws are needed to prevent voter fraud and ensure quick and accurate results.
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