Absentee ballots sent

Voters urged to follow instructions
By 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
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Absentee ballots for Fergus County voters who requested them are arriving. Voters who do not receive their ballot can call the Clerk and Recorder’s office to check on their status.
Photo by Deb HIll

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Rana Wichman

Over 4,000 voters across Fergus County will see absentee ballots in their mailboxes shortly, if they haven’t already arrived. On Friday, Oct. 9 Fergus County Clerk and Recorder Rana Wichman sent 4,400 ballots to those who requested them.
“This is almost 1,000 more than normal,” Wichman said.
Typically around 3,500 people in Fergus County vote absentee. Wichman said the increase is attributable to two things.
“Voters in the outlying towns will not have polling places in their towns this election, so some of them are voting absentee,” Wichman said. “Also, some voters are concerned about COVID-19 and are electing to vote at home.”
Wichman had proposed an all-mail election for the Nov. 3 General Election, similar to the all-mail Primary Election the state held in June. Fergus County commissioners, after listening to input at a public meeting with over 25 people in attendance, decided on a mixed approach. All county voters can vote in person at the Trade Center at the fairgrounds in Lewistown; voters in outlying communities can drive to Lewistown to vote in person or can vote an absentee ballot. Ballot drop off sites will be available in Denton, Grass Range, Moore, Roy and Winifred.
This mixed approach has not satisfied everyone, though.
“I’ve heard from some really angry voters about the lack of polling places in the outlying communities,” Wichman said.
Her office is offering two days in each outlying community where voters can drop their ballots off, rather than mailing them back.
Wichman has some advice for those voting absentee. The most important message is: read the directions carefully.
“If you make a mistake, you can bring your ballot to our office and we will void it and give you a new one,” Wichman said. “But it’s good to read the instructions and follow them to make sure your vote counts.”
Speaking of votes that count, Wichman said it is ok if voters skip over a race.
“You don’t have to vote every race. If you leave one blank, it doesn’t matter. Your votes in the other races will still count.”

However, Wichman said she hopes voters read the voter pamphlet sent by the Secretary of State’s office.
“If you are not sure how to vote, read the pamphlet so you can be informed,” she said.
Wichman suggests voters deliver their ballots to her office by hand, or make sure they are mailed back at least one week before the Nov. 3 Election Day. Polls close at 8 p.m. that day, and voters can bring absentee ballots to the Clerk and Recorder’s office right up until that time.
As always, procedures are in place to prevent election fraud.
“Absentee ballots are only mailed to those who request them,” Wichman said.
When the voter brings or mails their ballot back, Wichman enters receipt of that ballot into the Montana Votes software program.
“If anyone already came and got a replacement ballot, the system will not allow me to ‘receipt’ a second ballot,” Wichman said. “We also compare signatures with the ones on file. I am trained in how to ensure they match.”
For those voting in person, the system is similar. If a voter has already turned in a ballot, whether through early voting or by mail, the system will catch that.
“At the polling place it tells the Election Judges in the register that these people have already voted,” Wichman said. “We won’t let them vote twice.”
Wichman suggests anyone who requested an absentee ballot but did not receive it, call her office.
“We will make sure we have the correct address,” Wichman said. “If the address is correct, we’ll give it a week or so and then we will replace that ballot.”
Voters can vote at Wichman’s office up until Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. They can vote at Wichman’s office or at the Trade Center from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Ballot drop off information

The Fergus County Clerk and Recorder will make drop off sites available for those in outlying communities who want to drop their ballots off, rather than mail them back. Locations and times are as follows:

Denton: Denton library, Thursday, Oct. 22 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Grass Range: Grass Range school, Thursday, Oct. 22 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Moore: Moore Fire Hall, Thursday, Oct. 22 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Roy: Roy Fire Hall, Thursday, Oct. 22 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Winifred: Winifred Community Hall, Thursday, Oct. 22 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

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