There's an old saying in political science about faulting how government runs: Never attribute to malice that which can be chalked up to incompetence.
That's why we'll give the Republican National Committee credit for incompetence when it sent mailers to Montana voters claiming that elections officials could accept an absentee ballot for as many as 10 days after Election Day.
Let's pause on that: Someone with the Republican National Committee either had the audacity to trick voters into believing that a vote still counted 10 days late, or was so woefully clueless about how voting worked in Montana to believe that ballots are accepted more than week after the results have been tallied.
We hope voters are smart enough to think this through. After all, if absentee ballots were really indeed accepted that late, there would be no election results for weeks — literally. And, whether you vote absentee or in-person, the point of Election Day is that is the Montana deadline to cast your ballot.
What is hard to figure out is how something so damaging and, quite frankly, ridiculous got by in the first place. It just doesn't make sense. Moreover, we have a hard time believing that Democrats are any more tardy with their ballots than Republicans, so we can't see how spreading that kind of misinformation would give the GOP any advantage. All it seems to do is disenfranchise voters and run the risk of not getting the votes to count.
For a party that routinely claims voter fraud, and talks about needing to strengthen our voting requirements, this kind of approach seems hypocritical. What could be more fraudulent than lying to voters about when the ballots are due, and risking that they don't count?
When the story was first reported in The Billings Gazette on Wednesday, no one from the Republican National Committee had responded to inquiries. And, no one from the RNC had responded to the state's Commissioner on Political Practices. Republicans were bold enough to send the mailer, but seemed slow to take responsibility for the misinformation. The RNC later promised to make "live" phone calls to the mailer recipients, but if the committee got names from voter rolls, not all will have current phone numbers listed.
We hope that a Montana citizen files a complaint with the COPP, so our state election watchdog can investigate this. The danger is that people will believe they have enough time to vote, and their voices will be shut out. Voting is too important to leave to chance, or a misinformed piece of junk mail.
The remedy should be more than just sending out another piece of mail that looks like junk mail and could get lost in the shuffle of pre-election flyers. The RNC should correct its error in a more deliberate way, with mailers or advertising that is obvious and intentional.
The COPP could use this as a tool to teach voters about the correct way to vote in Montana.
We remind voters that ballots are due in your county elections office on Election Day, and if you have absentee ballots, it's important to get them in early. No matter your political beliefs, it's essential that you have your vote counted.