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Gazette opinion: House contradicts voters' choice on mail ballot

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In November, when Montanans elected representatives to the Legislature and other public offices, the majority of Yellowstone County voters chose to have their ballots mailed to them.

Although most of their constituents chose vote by mail, last Friday nine of 15 Yellowstone County House members voted against mail ballots. The six who voted in favor of the vote-by-mail proposal were Democrats Virginia Court, Robyn Driscoll, Margie MacDonald, Mary McNally and Carolyn Pease-Lopez and Republican Ken Peterson.

The 57-42 partisan defeat of the bipartisan bill came a day after it passed on second reading with a vote of 57-43. Two Yellowstone County lawmakers, Billings Republicans Doug Kary and Don Roberts, were among those whose votes changed from “yea” to “nay” overnight.

This certainly isn't the first time that months of hard work by knowledgeable, concerned Montanans was rejected in an instant at the Legislature. However, the defeat of House Bill 130 is especially disheartening because its opponents — some of whom had been proponents until they voted no — conjured up fears that ultimately trumped the common sense and research conducted by a bipartisan working group of county elections officials, and representatives of a wide spectrum of Montanans concerned about voting rights for young adults, older adults, Native Americans and disabled persons.

In the June 2010 primary, when all the representatives now in Helena were first on the ballot for this term of office, more than 84 percent of Yellowstone voters chose to use mail ballots instead of going to the polls. In the November General Election, when more people voted, 74 percent of Yellowstone County voters used ballots that had been mailed to them at their request.

HB130 would have improved security and reduced potential for irregularities in conduct of elections.

With mail ballots, there has been an increase in voter participation in local and state elections. Increased participation is a good thing. Our democracy depends on strong, regular participation of voters.

HB130 also proposed common-sense updates to active voter lists, which would have provided more timely and accurate voter lists, so ballots would get to eligible voters sooner.

That's why Rep. Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls, a former county clerk, sponsored the bill.

HB130 would have cost the state nothing; counties bear the cost of conducting elections. HB130 would have saved Montana counties an estimated $2 million per election cycle, according to the bill's fiscal note.

We thank the Yellowstone County lawmakers who voted for HB130. They stood by the decisions Yellowstone County voters have already made. Lawmakers who defeated HB130 ignored the voting choices of their constituents.


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