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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Mail Voting Bill Dead After Failed 'Blast' Motion

Voting booths at the Missoula Public Library.
Josh Burnham
Montana's May 25 special election will be held with both mail ballots and polling places available.

What’s known as the mail-in ballot bill, to give counties the option of running the upcoming special election without physical polling places, is now dead after a vote today in the state House of Representatives.

Supporters of Senate Bill 305 tried to blast the legislation onto the House floor after it failed to move out of committee earlier this week.

County elections officials across the state have pushed for a decision on the bill because of an April 10 deadline to send out mail ballots. Today’s attempt to advance SB-305 needed 60 votes out of the 100 in the House chamber. It got 51.

“I thought I might get a few more. I knew I wasn’t going to get 60,” said Forsyth Republican Geraldine Custer.

Custer made the blast motion in support of the mail-in ballot bill. Custer, a former clerk and recorder, says the bill would save counties over half a million dollars statewide in the upcoming special U.S. House election on May 25.

“We do not have time to waste. And even more importantly do not have money to waste. Failure to pass the mail ballot bill force all the taxpayers to pay for the cost of a poll election,” she said.

Custer and most Democrats argued the bill was a cost saving measure that did not favor any political party or hurt voting access.

But Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Democrat from Crow Agency, says this bill would limit Native American communities’ ability to vote because mail-in balloting doesn’t work well on reservations.

“One of the things we’ve got to understand is that for many of you it may be okay to vote by mail. For many of you you’ve never had to fight. Every election we have to make sure that we have access to the poll,” she said.

Columbus Republican Forrest Mandeville also spoke out against the bill.

“We cannot eliminate choice for people, eliminate the choice for people to go to a polling place and expect more people to come out and vote. We’re taking away an option. We’re not giving them a new option,” he said.

Republican Party leadership has voiced opposition to the mail ballot bill out of concern that it could help Democrats in the upcoming election.

Representative Geraldine Custer says this was the last attempt to get SB-305 passed. She says there isn’t time left to try anything else in an attempt to save counties money and ease the burden of running the upcoming special election.

The failure of SB-305 means the May 25 election will be held with both mail ballots and polling places available.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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