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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bills that would change Montana election policies advance

Bills seeking changes to election policy in Montana have advanced in the state Legislature.

House Bill 774 would significantly alter Montana’s elections calendar, requiring all local, county and statewide elections for everything from school boards to irrigation districts to occur during primary or general elections on even-numbered years. Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Hopkins, a Republican from Missoula, told a committee the shift could boost voter turnout for all elected officials.

“Whether it is electing city council members, the mayor, county commissioners — us, for instance — I think that it is beneficial to have those elections linked to your highest turnout,” Hopkins said.

Democrats and some Republicans opposed the bill, saying the new calendar could overwhelm local election offices and that lawmakers hadn’t had enough time to consider the 76-page bill. It passed the House largely on party lines two days after it was introduced in committee.

Another measure, requested by Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, would preemptively prohibit ranked-choice voting for all public elections in Montana. The system is used for some elections in 12 states and allows voters to rank candidates by preference, with the winner being the first candidate to collect more than 50% of votes.

A representative from the Secretary of State’s office said ranked-choice voting would confuse voters and open up elections to vote-counting errors and delays. Opponents said the bill addresses a problem that doesn’t exist, as no elections are currently held in Montana through ranked-choice voting. The measure passed the House of Representatives with Democrats in opposition.

Additional bills that would add language to state law prohibiting “illegal aliens” from voting in elections and overhaul procedures for putting issues on the ballot also passed from their first chamber, largely along party lines.

Lawmakers will continue to debate the policies once the session resumes later this week.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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