Voters Head to the Polls for Montana Primary Election

The results of Montana's June 4 primary will determine who moves onto the general election as the state looks ahead to several high-profile races. Here's what to look out for as voters cast their ballots today.

By Denali Sagner
Polling place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on June 4, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On this cloudy and cool June Tuesday, voters across Montana are heading to the polls.

On the ballot are party primaries for federal, state and local office, as well as a ballot question that asks voters to approve a decennial local government audit. Though primaries are historically low-turnout elections, Flathead County voters are set to cast ballots in a number of competitive races. For Republicans, the election will deliver a verdict on the ongoing battle between ultra-conservative and moderate sects of the party. For progressives hoping to sway the Biden administration on its handling of the Israel-Hamas War, the primary is an opportunity for an electoral protest.

Early Tuesday morning, election officials reported a slow trickle of voters arriving to cast ballots. 

“It’s a little slower than we thought it would be,” Grant Mounteer, chief election judge for precinct 22, told the Beacon at First Baptist Church in Whitefish. 

Mounteer thinks turnout for the primary may be low due to a lack of ballot initiatives and high-profile federal races. 

Neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump have a competitor in their presidential primary. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester faces a longshot challenge from Navy veteran and Helena resident Michael Hummert. In the Republican race for Senate, Bozeman businessman Tim Sheehy is expected to clinch the party’s nomination and run against Tester after receiving endorsements from Trump and other high-profile GOP figures.

Over at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, Paula Buff, advisor for the Flathead County Election Department, reported a smooth and quiet morning at the county’s largest election site. 

Buff said the high number of absentee ballots cast may make for a subdued day at the polls. 

Of the 79,698 registered voters in Flathead County, 44,481 received absentee ballots for the primary election. As of Monday afternoon, 38% of Flathead County absentee ballots had been received by the Montana secretary of state’s office. 

Statewide, 188,246 of 449,224 absentee ballots, or 41.9%, had been returned as of Monday. 

Turnout for primary elections is historically low. In U.S. elections since 2000, the average voter turnout in the primaries has been 27%, compared to 60.5% in the general. 

Polling place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on June 4, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A number of competitive legislative primaries appear on the ballot today. The races may serve as a referendum on the increasingly divided local Republican establishment as moderate candidates face off against ultra-conservative contenders.

In Kalispell and Evergreen, Gov. Greg Gianforte endorsed sitting Republican lawmakers Courtenay Sprunger and Tony Brockman in their bids for reelection to the state House, celebrating their policy-focused record and close collaboration with the executive branch. Their competitors, Shaun Pandina and Lukas Schubert, are challenging the representatives from the right, painting them as antithetical to the conservative cause.

Campaigning outside the Flathead County Fairgrounds this morning, Pandina and Schubert reported feeling optimistic about their chances against Sprunger and Brockman. Pandina and Schubert, both first time legislative candidates, have received the backing of the Flathead County Republican Central Committee (FCRCC). Sprunger and Brockman, backed by the governor and a coalition of statewide elected officials, have campaigned on their successful legislative records and conservative bona fides in recent months. 

“I’m feeling good,” Pandina said this morning. “Hopefully we get a good turnout today, because it’s definitely part of the process.”

Schubert said, “I’m confident that I’m going to win.” 

In deep-red Flathead County, the outcome of many Republican primaries will likely decide who heads to the Legislature in 2025. 

Activists are hoping to use the primary to send a message about progressive voters’ dissatisfaction surrounding the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas War. 

In a message on Monday evening, MT4Palestine, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, encouraged voters to select “no preference” in the Democratic presidential primary. 

“Every day brings more news of unbearable slaughter in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. Israel commits massacre after massacre in Jabalia, Khan Yunis, and the ‘safe zone’ of Rafah, while our elected leaders do nothing but send the bombs,” the message read. “Tomorrow’s primary election is our best chance to say unlike them, we have red lines. Make sure to vote NO PREFERENCE in the Democratic presidential primary, write in ‘ceasefire’ for senator, and convey to everyone else asking for your vote that yours depends on Palestine.”

Though Biden handily won the Democratic nomination in March, an average of one in 10 Democratic voters has selected “uncommitted” in the presidential primary, according to reporting by the New York Times. In states where “uncommitted” has not been an option, around 12% of voters have written in a candidate other than Biden. 

MT4Palestine in social media posts has emphasized that voting “no preference” in June does not need to impact voters’ selections in the general election, but is a way to “remind Biden that he needs to earn our votes come November.” 

Polling place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on June 4, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Learn more about the legislative candidates on the ballot here. Check your voter registration here, and find out what legislative district you live in here. For more information on how and where to vote, visit the Flathead County Election Department website or contact the office at (406) 758-5535. 

[email protected]