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Some Montana lawmakers want to make voting more expensive for counties and less convenient for voters.

County clerks and election officials from across Montana, once again, asked the Legislature to let voters request absentee ballots for every election — without requiring them to file paperwork every two years. Besides complying with voters’ wishes, HB287 would save the counties money. Counties would no longer have to mail letters again and again to everyone on the absentee list to ask if they want to stay on the list for another two years. Voters who want to be on the list would no longer be deleted simply because they forgot to sign and return the card again. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula.

Under present law, next January, Yellowstone County will have to mail about 67,000 letters to people on the absentee list asking them to sign, stamp and return a form if they want to keep getting mail ballots for every election.

Extra postage

It is disturbing that some members of the Senate State Administration Committee indicated confusion about absentee voting law in their discussion before killing it last week. Sens. Doug Kary, Nels Swandal, Gordon Vance, Ryan Osmundson and Dee Brown rejected the bill. As one committee member said: “It’s not too much for voters to sign a card every two years.”

Not too much for counties to spend thousands of dollars on unnecessary postage and mailing?

Not too much for each county to completely delete and re-enter their absentee ballot list every other spring? In Yellowstone County, the list recently had 67,000 names. That’s most of the voters in our county.

Not too much for voters who for whatever reasons don’t return the card and have to make a trip to their elections office or polling place to vote – even though they preferred a mail ballot?

U.S. House election

A second common-sense election bill is set for hearing Thursday in House Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 305, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, at the request of counties and their election officials, would allow counties to hold the May 25 special U.S. House election with mail ballots for all voters, avoiding the cost of staffing polls on Election Day. The bill passed the Senate, but is expected to run into more opposition in the House. State GOP Chairman Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton oppose the all-mail ballot election.

SB305 will save Montana counties up to $700,000 altogether, according to estimates from counties. Yellowstone alone will save about $50,000.

SB305 provides all Montana voters with several options for casting their special U.S. House ballot:

  • Stamp and mail the ballot.
  • Deliver the ballot to the county election office during business hours any day before the election.
  • Give the ballot to someone known and trusted to deliver to the election office.
  • Deliver the ballot to the county office on May 25 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Bring the ballot to another Election Day drop-off location staffed and secured by election judges between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. SB305 would require Yellowstone County to have four such drop-offs and to equip each with machines for disabled voters to cast ballots.

SB305 will save taxpayer money, it makes voting secure and convenient for all. It will encourage the highest voter turnout, as mail ballot elections have been proven to do in the 30 years they have been used securely and successfully in Montana.

Republican and Democratic county commissioners are supporting SB305.

Those Republicans opposed to this bill are attempting to reduce turnout while totally disregarding the burden that election costs place on county taxpayers. We call on legislators of both parties to support SB305 for better voter access and lower costs.

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