Election season is an exciting time for many Americans. Each election brings potential change and this year’s primary election brings with it significant changes in election procedure. The novel coronavirus has forced us to socially distance and avoid large gatherings. Transmission of this viral pandemic necessitates separation to slow the spread.  Which means, joining others to cast a ballot may be a thing of the past. Election officials across the country will either adapt or face challenges like those seen in the Wisconsin primary. In Milwaukee, polling workers ghosted over fears of infectionforcing the consolidation of 180 polling places down to just five locationsand in those locations, voters stretched around multiple city blocks. Coupled with the poor handling of absentee registrations, one needn’t be an expert political forecaster to assess the most likely outcome from the Wisconsin primary is a massively reduced turnout as voters abstain.  

Thankfully, Montana voters already have the option to vote absentee on a mail-in ballot. But, as an added precaution, election officials in all 56 Montana counties have decided to hold the June 2nd primary election entirely by mailprotecting both the public’s health and the integrity of our elections.  

This won’t be much of a change for Billings voters. Yellowstone County already has a very high proportion of people who receive absentee ballots. About 86% of voters are already signed up to vote by mail, and in a typical primary over 90% of participating voters do so by mail.  

Still, when attempting to curb a pandemic, any contact between individuals which can be avoided should be avoided. As a result, all polling places will be closed on election day this June. Therefore, it is more important than ever that people who want to vote in this year’s primary plan ahead and ensure that they are registered and prepared long before election day 

4 THINGS to know for the Primary Election 

We talked to Yellowstone County Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford, to find out how Yellowstone County is adapting and keep you informed on this evolving situation. Here are the four things you should know about the upcoming primary election.  

Register to vote by May 26th 

Normally ballots are only mailed to voters who sign up to receive onethis year everyone who is registered to vote will automatically receive a ballot by mail. During a normal election, same-day registration would be an option for someone voting in person, but of course it will take time for ballots to be mailed to voters and mailed back. If you would like to vote in this year’s primary and are not already registered, you must register by 5:00 p.m. on May 26th. If you need to register, you can do so by filling out a voter registration form at home–they must be signed by hand–and returning it to the Yellowstone County Election Administration by hand, mail, or email 

Update your mailing address

If your mailing address has changed recently, it is not enough to notify the US Postal Service to receive a ballot at your new address; the County needs to be notified as well. You can check if your address is up to date and if you are registered by going to the Montana Secretary of State’s My Voter page. If you need to update your address, simply fill out a voter registration form and return it to the Yellowstone County Election Administration by May 26th 

Save a trip to buy stamps

Yellowstone County will pay postage for returning mail ballots. You will be sent a prepaid return envelope along with your ballots. Ballots can also be hand delivered to the Yellowstone County Courthouse, and the Elections Administration is looking into the possibility of creating additional drop-off locations. Voters are, of course, advised to mail their ballots back to minimize social contact. To ensure your vote is counted, we advise mailing no later than Thursday, May 28th 

(You only need postage to mail your voter registration or address update prior to the election.)  

Fill out your ballot properly

There is one way in which this year’s primary elections will be somewhat different from past primaries besides the absence of in-person voting–this year there will be three ballots. You will receive a Republican ballot, Democratic ballot, and Green Party ballot this year. While you may choose to complete any of the ballots, you may only return one of them. Ballots also come with voting instructions which must be followed. Be sure to read the instructions thoroughly, because in some cases, an errorfilling out and returning more than one ballot, for example–can cause your vote to not be counted.  



Much of life feels as though it has been put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, but some things – such as the election – simply must go on as planned. Thankfully we in Montana have enough time to adapt and make sure that we can conduct this election safely. If you ensure that you are registered to vote by May 26th, your address is up to date, and you follow the often overlooked advice to thoroughly read the instructions, you will be able to fully participate in choosing the nominees for the general election from the safety and comfort of your own home. If you have any further questions, visit the Yellowstone County Elections Administration website, call them at (406) 256-2740 or email brutherford@co.yellowstone.mt.gov. For more information on COVID-19 and governmental responses to it, visit Billings Chamber’s COVID-19 Resources page