Letter: Mail-in voting process explained by County elections office
September 17, 2020
The Lewis and Clark County elections is hearing from people who are concerned about the security of the upcoming election. It can be hard to get accurate information about how elections work; conversations happen at the national level, but elections are administered locally with different laws in each state. Adding to this confusion, we know from our election security training that foreign entities are deliberately spreading disinformation about our elections through social media, and citizens are unknowingly sharing misleading posts. We want to remind our citizens that they should get their election information from trusted sources, like their local county election office or the Montana Secretary of State's Office.
Lewis and Clark County is conducting the election by mail with in-person voting also available October 2 through Election Day. This best fits with the CDC's advice to reduce the number of voters who congregate indoors and to offer a variety of voting options for a longer period of time.
Here's how it works for voters:
• Ballots will be mailed starting October 9, 2020. Ballots are not mass-mailed. We only send ballots to active and provisionally registered voters, which means we have already verified their registration application and have their signature on file.
• Return postage is prepaid. You should mail your ballot back at least one week before the election or drop your ballot off in person. The instructions mailed with your ballot will list these options.
• Ballots will continue to be mailed out daily as new registration forms and updates are processed. Within a week of the election (starting October 27), you should appear in person at the elections office if you have not voted yet.
• In-person voting is available October 2 through Election Day, November 3. At the in-person location you can:
o Vote/Drop-off the ballot you received in the mail.
o Request and vote a ballot.
Here's what we do in the elections office:
• Voter registration lists are maintained for accuracy according to state law. Additional outreach will be done before Election Day to target people with recent address changes or outdated voting information.
• Deceased persons are regularly removed from the rolls based on familial contact, local obituaries, and state and local government death records.
• Ballots are inventoried and tracked. We know how many blank ballots we ordered. We track each ballot issued and each ballot returned.
• The signature on every single returned ballot is verified by trained staff. If there is an issue, the voter is notified about how to resolve it.
• Accepted ballots move through a series of reconciliations, each completed by a different staff person. Staff must sign off on their work and check the work from the preceding step. Anytime voted ballots are removed from envelopes, two staff must be present.
• We will not hesitate to refer allegations of fraud for investigation; we carefully file all the envelopes we receive in case we need to access one and provide it as evidence.
• Ballots are counted on tabulating machines that are not connected to the internet, are stored in a room with a security sensor, and have tamper proof seals over all ports. They are tested prior to and on election day and are audited after the election. Staff that operate the machines sign off on reports showing how many ballots they received and counted. Results are not released to the public until after voting closes at 8pm on Election Day.
We hope that voters will take advantage of the opportunity to vote early, and especially to register and receive their ballot through the mail. This will reduce the number of people that need to vote in-person on Election Day and will therefore reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to voters and election workers. For some voters, appearing in-person will be the best or only option. Our in-person operations will be socially distanced and operated according to public health guidelines. On Election Day, we will make a "park and vote" option available so you can request and vote your ballot from your vehicle. We will also have a drive-through/walk-up ballot drop off available at the City-County building once ballots have mailed out.
Visit http://www.lccountymt.gov/car/elections for more trusted voting information.
Lewis and Clark County Elections Office Audrey McCue, CeCe Bracken, Daniel Wendel and Paulette DeHart