Lewis and Clark County leaders have accepted a major grant, intended to help get ready for COVID-19’s impact on the November election.
On Thursday morning, county commissioners voted to accept $215,000 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a national nonprofit. That funding will go toward ensuring the upcoming election is run safely and informing voters about changes in election procedures.
CTCL got $250 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to help local election offices around the country adjust during the pandemic.
Lewis and Clark County is running its November election by mail. Ballots will be sent out to active voters next week. The county will also offer an in-person voting option at the City-County Building in Helena, starting Friday.
County leaders say they have a number of plans for the grant money, including buying personal protective equipment for election workers, adding equipment for mail ballot processing and setting up a drive-through ballot drop site in Helena starting Oct. 12 and drop boxes in East Helena, Lincoln, Wolf Creek and Augusta on Election Day.
They also plan nonpartisan voter outreach, through methods like newspaper and radio advertisements and social media. Their goal will be to help county residents understand how to vote – especially after changes due to COVID-19 and legal cases – and to clear up any misinformation that may be circulating.
“The most important part, at least in my mind, of this grant is so that people know that when the Lewis and Clark County Elections Department speaks, they will be able to recognize that voice, trust that information, because this is the very basis of how our country is governed, by the consent of the governed,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise.
In one example of the confusion voters could face this year, county leaders are reminding voters to have their mail ballots into the elections office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. A lower court had issued a ruling extending that deadline, but the Montana Supreme Court overturned it this week.
While the grant is primarily for the November election, leaders said things like new equipment and improving communications from the elections office will bring benefits into the coming years.
You can find the latest information from the Lewis and Clark County Elections Office on the county website.