Mail in Bill for Special Election failed but mail-ins allowed

Courtesy photo Montana voters can go to the polls this month to elect a U.S. Representative but there is still time for mail in voters.

The Mail in ballot bill 305 for the Special Election for Montana’s U. S. Representative this May has failed but registered voters may still fill out an absentee ballot application for a mail in ballot according to Carbon County administrators, Macque Bohleen and Kris Stovall.

Registered voters can apply online, mail the application or fax it. They can also physically deliver the application to the County office.

“The deadline is Wednesday, noon, May 24 to request a ballot,” said Stovall. But Bohleem advised, “Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for mailing.”

The confusion about mail in ballots may stem from the fact that although the bill didn’t pass, mail-in ballots are still allowed. The difference is that they are not automatically mailed out to every registered voter and proper polling places must be set up as usual.

Stovall explained, “We cannot do the entire election by mail.” They have to prepare for the election as normal and incur the costs. “It will be a standard election on May 25,” she explained. Those costs to counties will run up to $750,000 according to Governor Steve Bullock.

To clarify: If you want a mail in ballot and are a registered voter already, just fill out an absentee ballot application. If you don’t want a mail-in ballot just come to the polls as usual on May 25. “The normal polling places will all be available,” said Stovall.

Absentee voters will be processed as usual. “They were mailed out Monday, May 1,” said Bohleen. Check with the election office if you believe you should have received an absentee ballot. “Ballots with incorrect addresses cannot be forwarded by law,” noted Stovall.

Bohleen urged voters to review any changes. “Make sure your contact information is updated. If your address is wrong, it will come back.”

If you are not a registered voter, it is now Late Registration time, being 30 days before the election. Here is the procedure:

Anyone wishing to register to vote at this time for the special election must physically come in a register and can receive their ballot.

A new registrant can vote up until 8 p.m. on Election Day at the county office, but should be aware they cannot receive a ballot from Noon, May 24, until the morning of the election, May 25.

“If you have address changes, or name changes you can vote one time in your old precinct,” said Bohleen. “Be sure and let the judges know so you can fill out a new Voter Registration Card to update your information.”

On April 7, Gov. Steve Bullock had revived the debate over mail-only voting when he used his veto power to rewrite a routine bill to allow counties to conduct the May 25 congressional election by mail and sent it back to the House. The governor’s action caught Secretary of State Corey Stapleton off guard. His fellow Republicans in the House, who had killed the bill in March, were scrambling to see if there was a way to prevent the governor’s changes from being debated and getting a floor vote.

They ran down the clock — because they could choose to take up the matter any time during the remaining days of the session. No vote was needed and the possibility of a total mail in ballot election this Special Election died quietly.

The bill had failed in the House the first time. Carbon County Representative Seth Berglee voted against the bill. Earlier, he had listened to a packed room and all three Commissioners make a plea for the bill. The Commissioners signed a resolution afterward, joining 45 of 56 counties in support of the bill. He had promised he would explain his vote, either way. Upon attempts to contact him, it was reported Berglee was in New Zealand.

The cost issue drove considerations of most county commissioners since they had already exhausted existing funds due to the need to issue new ballots after the Libertarian candidate died unexpectedly and a new candidate was substituted for the November, 2016, election.

On March 31, Democrats failed in a last-ditch effort to use a tactic called “blasting” to allow a full debate in the chamber, after failing earlier to move the bill from the House Judiciary Committee. They needed 60 House votes to move forward on the bill.

County elections officials across the state had pushed for a decision on the bill because of an April 10 deadline to send out mail ballots. The attempt to advance Senate Bill 305 needed 60 votes out of the 100 in the House chamber. It got 51. It failed 51-49.

Voters will choose from among Democrat Rob Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte, and Libertarian Mark Wicks to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke after he was named U.S. Interior Secretary.