Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch has weighed in on a proposal to move Helena’s mail-sorting operations to Great Falls, expressing concerns about what it could mean for local elections.

In a letter addressed to Montana’s congressional delegation, McCulloch noted that an increasing number of Montanans are choosing to vote using absentee mail ballots, with the number of votes cast that way jumping from 15 percent of the total to 47 percent in the past decade. The shift to mail ballots is expected to continue, meaning the U.S. Postal Service will play a role in elections, McCulloch wrote in the letter.

“Moving Helena’s mail processing operation to Great Falls could delay the delivery of absentee ballots to Helena and Helena-area voters, and delay the return of a voted ballot to the county election office,” she wrote. “Either scenario would diminish voters’ confidence in Montana’s reliable absentee and vote-by-mail process.”

Montana law requires all ballots to be returned to the local election administrator’s office by the end of Election Day, meaning postmark dates are not relevant if the mail doesn’t get there in time, the letter stated.

“Any delays in the mail processing operation could discourage Montanans from voting by mail — a convenient and reliable service that continues to save time, money and resources for state and county governments,” McCulloch wrote.

Helena’s primary and general elections are set to be conducted through mail-in ballots this year, after a reluctant vote to do so by the city commission Monday night.

The Postal Service is in the midst of a study of Helena’s mail processing operations to determine whether consolidating them with current operations in Great Falls would save the agency money. Denver-based regional spokesman Al DeSarro has said that the Postal Service — which is a government agency that is not tax-supported — has seen its mail volume decrease 20 percent since 2007, with a corresponding decrease in operating revenue. Consolidations are part of efforts to curb those losses, and the Postal Service has already completed about 35 across the country.

Four years ago, the Postal Service had conducted a similar study over the feasibility of a Helena-Great Falls merger, but concluded that it ultimately wouldn’t save much money and could negatively affect services in the Helena area.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or allison.maier@helenair.com

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