Starting in mid-October, a number of tribal members began to email the Glacier County Commissioners asking that additional ballot drop-off sites be set up on the reservation. During a normal year, Glacier County has multiple polling sites in Cut Bank and Browning, as well as in outlying communities like Babb, East Glacier Park and Blackfoot. For the June primary, the county conducted an all-mail election and paid the return postage of every ballot. The county also offered two ballot drop-off sites, one in Browning and another in Cut Bank.Glacier County Election Administrator Mandi Bird Kennerly said the county planned to do the same for the November general election until it started receiving complaints about the limited number of drop-off sites in light of the travel restrictions. Not long after, rumors began to spread that the county government was purposely limiting drop-off sites. On October 23, the county commission directed Kennerly to open additional ballot drop-off sites on the reservation. In the email directing Kennerly to do that, Commissioner Michael DesRosier wrote that it would be worthwhile “even if we only get one vote dropped in each place.” “There has been some talk that we could be suppressing the vote [if] we don’t do more,” DesRosier wrote. “I don’t want to be answering anyone about why we didn’t do anything extra.” Early last week, the election staff started planning additional drop-off sites. But on October 28, the Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command posted on Facebook that county administrators were “denying placement” of ballot drop boxes, briefly sparking outrage online. On Thursday, Kennerly said there had been a miscommunication with the tribe about when the new sites would be open. She also said it had taken time to hire the six temporary employees needed to run the sites and outfit them with personal protective equipment. The two new sites opened Thursday, October 29. Blackfeet Reservation residents can drop off ballots at the following county sites: —Inside the Glacier County Satellite Office, 12 Starr School Road, Browning, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, or in a heated trailer outside the office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays. —The Blackfeet Nation Stick Game Arbor, 44 Museum Loop, Browning, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. —The East Glacier Park Women’s Club, 416 U.S. Highway 2, East Glacier Park, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. —Western Native Voice, a Billings-based nonprofit that promotes civic engagement in Indian Country, is hosting a ballot drop-off in Babb Fire Hall, 4067 US-89, Babb, daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana’s School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter @jfranz88.
Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.
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