HELENA — There’s just a week left until ballots are due in Helena and East Helena’s city elections, and election officials want to make sure that voters are prepared for some changes in registration rules.
This is the first municipal election held since the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 176, which eliminated Election Day voter registration. Now, late registration will close at noon on the day before an election.
Lewis and Clark County treasurer-clerk and recorder Amy Reeves, the county’s election administrator, says they first implemented the change during school elections in May.
“In the May election, we actually had voters showing up late, so we want to make sure voters know,” she said.
Some voters who have already been registered in Lewis and Clark County might be able to update their registrations on Election Day. The Montana Secretary of State’s Office has proposed new rules (https://sosmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/44-2-250pro-arm.pdf) to implement HB 176, and part of those rules address what existing voters could do after late registration closes:
- Voters registered in Montana could change their residence to a different county, but they would have to vote in their previous county.
- Voters registered within the county could change their residence to a different precinct, and they could vote in their new precinct, old precinct or a location determined by the election administrator.
- Voters on the county’s inactive list could reactivate their registration, and they could vote on Election Day at the county elections office or another location determined by the election administrator.
Those rules haven’t been officially adopted yet. There will be a public hearing on them this Thursday.
"The feedback so far has been incredible,” said a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office in a statement. “Our local counterparts, state government counterparts, broad-ranging members of the public, folks from all walks rolling up their sleeves and collaborating to improve Montana elections. While polls have shown that 80 percent of Americans support voter identification, it's likely that 100 percent oppose trying to read broken, band-aided election rules written in legalese. Clear election rules make voting easier, more secure and less of a hassle."
Reeves says, for now, they’re recommending that anyone who wants to make any changes to their registration do it before noon on Monday.
“We do advise them, if they need to register, to come in and do it early so that they’re not waiting in line and everybody gets their turn to get registered,” she said.
Late voter registration will be open at the City-County Building in Helena from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 29, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, Nov. 1.
As of Tuesday morning, Lewis and Clark County Elections had mailed out 19,635 ballots to voters in Helena. 6,317 of them have been returned – a turnout of 28% so far. They have sent 1,074 ballots to East Helena voters and received 275 back – just over 22%.
Ballots must be received at the elections office by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Reeves said that, since the deadline is so close, they’re now recommending people who haven’t turned in their ballots yet drop them off in person rather than mailing them. A drop box will be available during business hours at the City-County Building. On Election Day, there will also be a drop box at East Helena City Hall.
If you haven’t received a ballot yet and you live within the Helena or East Helena city limits, Reeves asked that you come into the elections office to ensure your registration is active. She said her office is also reminding voters that people outside city limits won’t be voting in these city elections.