ICYMI: Speaker Knudsen actively supporting voter suppression

Republican is delaying action on Gov. Bullock’s amendatory veto for mail ballot special election

HELENA -- A new article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle has Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen nearly admitting he supports voter suppression by failing to schedule House Bill 83, with an amendatory veto by Governor Bullock, to the floor of the House for a fair vote.

Governor Bullock recently offered an amendatory veto on HB 83 to make sure the special election on May 25 to fill Montana’s Congressional seat is conducted by mail, saving counties across the state nearly $750,000 and allowing for greater voter participation.

Gallatin County election officials fielding questions from confused voters

Bozeman Daily Chronicle // Michael Wright

Charlotte Mills has been fielding a lot of questions about the upcoming special election and the Legislature’s still unsettled debate over giving counties the option to conduct the election only by mail.

Mills, the Gallatin County clerk and recorder, said some have wondered whether they need to re-register for this election. Some absentee voters have wondered whether they need to go to a polling place on Election Day, since the all-mail proposal hasn’t passed. Officials in other counties are fielding these questions as well.

Mills said that even though this election has the word “special” in its name and will happen at an unusual time of year, it’s going to be relatively normal. A voter’s registration is still up to date, assuming they voted in November. Regardless of whether there are polling places, voters on the absentee rolls will receive ballots by mail.

And when all this is over, sometime late on May 25 or early May 26, Montana will have elected a new congressman.

“Just let them pretend that it’s Nov. 8,” Mills said.

The May 25 special election is for the state’s U.S. House seat, which was left vacant when Ryan Zinke became secretary of the interior. In the past few months, the Montana Legislature has debated giving counties the option of conducting the election only by mail. Counties said it would save them money, but some Republican leaders opposed the idea because they thought it would tilt the election in Democrats’ favor.

A bill to give counties the mail-only option cleared the Senate but was killed by a House committee. Efforts to revive it fell flat. The issue appeared settled until Gov. Steve Bullock inserted the measure into House Bill 83, a separate elections bill, with an amendatory veto.

That move sent HB 83 back to Montana’s House of Representatives, where it could eventually get a floor debate and vote of the full House. If the bill were to pass with the governor’s suggested amendments, counties planning to use the mail-only option would have to get mail ballot plans to the Secretary of State’s office by April 24, and ballots would be mailed to all registered voters within 20 days of the election.

Whether the bill will move lies in the hands of House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson. Lindsey Singer, a spokeswoman for the Republican House leadership, said in an email the next few floor sessions seem too full to get the bill onto the floor and that the issue is already settled in the eyes of some.

“The fact is that the members have heard this same legislation already and voted against it,” Singer said.

If the House doesn’t act on the bill, the governor will have to decide whether to veto or sign the original version of House Bill 83, and the election would be conducted in the same way as a regular general election, one with both polling places and absentee ballots.

As it stands now, counties are preparing for that sort of election by securing polling places and finding election judges. Absentee ballots have to be mailed on or before May 1.

Like Mills, Madison County clerk and recorder Kathleen Mumme said some voters are asking her office if they’ll get ballots mailed to them. The answer to that question is that they will, and she urges people to call their county elections office if they have questions about the election.

Aside from that, she’s also hearing from voters who don’t understand why the Legislature is rejecting the all-mail option when it would save counties money.

“They don’t understand what the big deal is,” Mumme said.


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