Monday, January 22, 2018

The Hijacking of a Special Election

The special election to select a new Congressman for Montana is less than 80 days away, and the process for conducting the election has been turned into a political football game. 
Governor Steve Bullock, who was tasked for setting a date for the election, chose the earliest possible day – 85 days after Ryan Zinke resigned to serve as President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. This puts the election on Thursday, May 25, just before Memorial Day weekend. This date will interfere with graduation plans, family vacations, and other weekend activities. June 6 (the first Tuesday in June) was suggested and would match up well with the schedule of our normal primary elections. By holding an election the Thursday before a holiday weekend, when better dates were available, the Governor is engaging in election manipulation and voter suppression.
In addition, Senate Bill 305, the “mail ballot bill,” has been introduced in the legislature to allow counties the choice of whether or not to conduct the special election through an all-mail ballot. This bill, if passed, will result in additional voter suppression. By allowing counties to require a mail-in ballot, voters who prefer to vote in person at the polls will be disenfranchised. We have a system in Montana where we can choose to vote at the polls or request an absentee ballot or vote early in person at our county courthouse. Why would we want to limit the ways in which people can cast their ballot?
Montana’s reputation for how we conduct elections is exemplary, with good turnouts and high voter confidence in the integrity of our system. Why would we want to risk that with a fundamental change in the way we conduct elections? Mail ballots may not reach the intended voter, may not reach the voter on time, may get lost once received by the voter who does not usually choose to vote by mail, and many people neglect to change their voter registration address if they move. There is a lot that can go wrong.
People who agree with this change will point to the potential cost savings. There would likely be a cost saving to counties amounting to about $500,000 across the state, but the reality is that a lot of these “savings” will be cost-shifted onto voters for return postage. There are some things in which cost should not be the primary consideration, and holding free and fair elections is one of those.
I will steadfastly oppose SB 305. It is bad policy and a risk we cannot afford to take. We are unfortunately stuck with Governor Bullock’s poor decision for a date to hold the election; we should not compound the problem by messing around with the way we conduct elections. In this special election we should encourage people to vote by conducting it the same way we conduct other elections, and not create confusion by needlessly forcing fundamental changes on the voters and taxpayers of Montana.

Forrest J. Mandeville
Representative of House District 57
Chair, House State Administration Committee