Montana: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist
Grace Han/Thrillist

Montana's voter system is fairly simple, meaning it's as complicated as anything developed by the US government, but it gives you more voter options and cushions than some other states. If you learn nothing else from this voter guide, remember that you can register and vote on Election Day in Montana. You don't need to suffer the psychological burden of sending an actual letter with an actual stamp if it's really too much for you. But you should if you're concerned about COVID-19. 

As we prepare for the big day on November 3, the best thing you can do for your voter self is make a plan of action (e.g. in person or mail-in voting), read up on the CDC safety guidelines, memorize the deadlines, and get everything done far in advance. Read carefully, ask your local government officials questions, and stay safe. We love you. Happy voting! 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Montana?

You can register in person up until Election Day but, if you'd like to mail the registration form, you must do so by October 26. That means your letter needs to be postmarked for this date (and that you should send it even earlier). Keep in mind that if you register right before the election, you won't have enough time to get an absentee ballot. More on that below. 

PS: Montana does not offer online voter registration.

How to register to vote in Montana

Check and see if you're registered here first. If not, you can fill out a voter registration form and mail it to your local election office. You can also register to vote in person, but November 3 is the only day you can register at the polls. Otherwise you have to go to the local election office on weekdays between 8am and 5pm and fill out a form. Make sure you go to the office before October 26. 

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Montana?

All Montana voters can vote before Election Day through "absentee in-person voting," which runs from Monday, October 5 to Monday, November 2. This process is somewhat similar to voting by mail, in that you need to send an absentee ballot application to your local election office by noon the day before Election Day (it's also similar in that you absolutely should not wait until the day before the election to request a ballot -- these ballots become available 30 days before Election Day and, if there's some complication, you may need to go to the polls on Election Day anyway).

Can I vote by mail?

Yep! As mentioned above, anyone can vote by mail via absentee ballot. 

How to request an absentee ballot in Montana

You must either register at your local election office or send an absentee ballot application to your local election by noon the day before Election Day. If you register in person, you'll be able to pick up the absentee ballot at the same time.

How to vote absentee by mail in Montana

After you submit the request to local election office, hopefully way before the deadline of noon on Monday, November 2, you will receive an absentee ballot, which should then be returned again to this office. The ballot must be received at the election office by 8pm on Election Day. A postmark is not accepted in Montana, so send it at least a week in advance to be safe. 

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

You can track your mail-in ballot using this tool

Additionally, it's a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your voter materials -- you don't want your ballot to be thrown out on some sort of technicality.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Polling places are open from 6am to 6pm on Election Day. Find your polling place using the state's locator

While voting absentee by mail and voting early in person are likely the safest ways to vote in this election, there are still ways you can reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several safety tips to help voters protect themselves and others. 

Here's what the CDC recommends, according to its election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

Additional Montana voting resources

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