Montana mail-in voting: What to know

What is the difference between mail-in voting and absentee voting?

David Spunt takes a look at the differences between mail-in voting and absentee voting

As the United States prepares to hold a presidential election in the midst of a deadly pandemic, many states have adjusted to minimize in-person contact at the polls, including Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, on Aug. 6 announced that he would allow counties in his state to opt into a universal mail-in voting system, meaning all active voters in counties that choose to participate will be sent ballots without needing to request them. Bullock made a similar move in March ahead of the state's primary elections.

"I am in agreement with our bipartisan election administrators – who are the ones on the ground with the first-hand knowledge of how to successfully conduct an election – that we must protect Montanans’ right to vote, while protecting the public’s health," Bullock said in an August statement.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABSENTEE VOTING AND UNIVERSAL VOTE-BY-MAIL? 

He added: "Locally elected officials best understand the voting needs of their communities, and taking this action now ensures they will have the time to make the right decisions for their localities. With this approach we can protect that fundamental right to vote, while easing crowding and pressure on voting on Election Day."

Bullock's order instructed counties that opt into the universal mail-in option to send their ballots on Oct. 9. The order will expire immediately after the 2020 general election, meaning any future elections, without a similar emergency declaration or a change in law, will not be universal mail-in.

In Montana, mail ballots are required to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Voters can track their ballots online. The Montana Secretary of State says that voters should contact their county election offices to determine exactly what voting options are available.

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Counties that opt for universal mail-in voting are still permitted to hold in-person voting at polling places, according to Bullock's order, and are told to expand early voting opportunities as well.

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