Every presidential election year, there’s a twist in Montana voting procedure that causes some voters to miss the primary. It all has to do with ballots. “That’s one of the problems with our hybrid election system in Montana,” said Brett Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections officer. The confusion begins this Friday when nearly every voter in Yellowstone County is mailed a ballot for school elections. All but one school district in Yellowstone County conducts mail-ballot-only elections, Rutherford said. The exception is tiny Custer School District, which has only a few hundred voters, who still have to go to a polling place to cast ballots.
When those school ballots show up in mail boxes, many voters assume a primary election ballot is soon to follow, Rutherford explained. Primary election ballots go in the mail May 9, but not everyone who received a school ballot also gets a primary ballot. The ballots are different. School ballots are mail only. The entire school election is done by mail in districts that choose to participate.
The primary ballots are absentee ballots mailed only to voters who have filled out the paperwork to vote absentee. A voter who hasn’t registered for absentee voting is getting a ballot from the mail carrier.
But the confusion between school election rules and primary election rules is just the beginning. Montana voters must renew their absentee voter status every two years. Otherwise, they’re cut from the mailing list.