- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Early voting began Monday in Montana’s June 3 primary elections, effectively turning Election Day to election month with 185,000 absentee ballots shipped to voters across the state.

The ballots mailed Monday represent 89 percent of the total 207,000 votes cast in the 2010 midterm primary elections.

Absentee voting has grown exponentially since the law changed in 2000 to allow anyone to mail in a ballot, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said as she cast hers in Helena.

Absentee voters made up just 16 percent of the total votes cast in the 2000 general election. That rose to 59 percent of total votes in the 2012 general election.

McCulloch attributed the interest to convenience.

“People can sit at the kitchen table with the ballot and read about candidates and issues they might not be familiar with,” she said.

The popularity of early voting also means that campaigns are spending money sooner on ramping up their television, radio and Internet ads.

“You have to start a little earlier and move forward to get out the facts (of your campaign),” said Ryan Zinke, a Republican candidate for U.S. House.

Three Democrats and three Republicans are seeking their parties’ nominations for U.S. Senate. They include Democratic Sen. John Walsh, whom Gov. Steve Bullock appointed to fill the remainder of Max Baucus’ term when Baucus resigned to become ambassador to China.

Also running for Senate is U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, which leaves his House seat open to a field of two Democrats and five Republicans seeking party nominations.

There also are several contested primaries in the first legislative elections since House and Senate district maps were redrawn to account for population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. June 3 to be counted.

Regular voter registration ended Monday, but people can still register and cast a ballot up through the close of polls June 3.

Late voter registration must be done in person at a county election office or at a designated polling place.

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