Montana's election administrators are asking lawmakers to allow them to open and begin counting absentee ballots earlier because the number of mailed-in ballots continues to increase.

The Senate has passed a bill that would allow absentee ballots to be opened starting on the Thursday before Election Day and for counting to start the Monday before Election Day.

A House committee heard the bill Wednesday, but did not take action.

Currently, counties can open absentee ballots the day before Election Day and start counting on Election Day. Supporters said they need extra time to meet voter and candidate expectations of when results should be available.

The secretary of state's office opposes the bill, arguing it creates more opportunity for tampering to occur.

The bill includes steep fines and possible prison time for releasing results before the polls close.