By Ron VandenBoom
If you plan on voting for Mickey Mouse in the up-coming November election you may want to reconsider.
Montana law forbids the counting of any vote cast for an inanimate object or character, according to Diane Mellem, Hill County clerk and recorder.
This was just one of the rules governing Montana elections that Mellem reviewed Friday as she spoke to members and guests at the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club.
"If you vote for more than one candidate in any one race, you void only that race," Mellem said. "The rest of the ballot counts."
"Write-in candidates must declare that they will run as a write-in at least 15 days prior to the election," she said.
Montana law dictates that write-in candidates who do not declare at least 15 days prior to the election not be counted. The only exception is in a non-contested race where no candidate has declared, she said. "Then the judges must count the name of the write-in."
Mellem also noted that simply writing the name of a write-in candidate on the ballot does not cast a vote.
"You must check the box next to the write-in name," she said. "Every candidate's name is on the ballot. You don't get a vote by being printed on the ballot. You get a vote by a vote being cast."
A new law in Montana also mandates that a write-in candidate must list all of the names (Jimmy, Jim, James, etc.) by which they want to be known when they declare themselves to be a write-in candidate. The voter must also use more than just a last name in identifying the write-in.
"The law in Montana favors the intent of the voter," Mellem said. "If the intent is clear the intent should be followed."
"Any question about what the voter meant voids the vote," she said.
Mellem noted that Montana law also allows absentee ballots to be sent to anyone who requests them. No explanation as to why the ballot is needed is required.
On election day it is also possible to take a ballot to someone who is sick or can't make it to the polls.
One Republican and one Democrat will go to the poll and pick up a ballot and an application and take it to the shut-in. The shut-in must then sign the application, be allowed to vote, and then the ballot is hand-carried back to the poll by the same people that delivered it.
Enforcing the battery of new, and in some cases age old rules, is a small army of election judges that Mellem says receive very little money and work unbelievably long days.
"Finding election judges is not easy," Mellem said. "That's putting it mildly."
Election judges serve for a two-year term and are asked to work all elections, local, county, state, or federal, that fall during the time they serve. They receive minimum wages and will generally work about a 14 hours day.
Judges begin their day at about 6 a.m. when they arrive at any one of 24 polling stations in Hill County and are not allowed to leave until the last vote is counted, the tally of votes and ballots balances, and the results turned over to the county Clerk and Recorder.
Meals are not provided for judges and since they are not allowed to leave the polling place, they have to either bring their meals or have them delivered, Mellem said.
Judges are also required to attend a one to two hour class several days prior to their first election to learn the ropes and bone-up on any new laws governing elections.
Mellem said she currently has 124 judges for the 24 precincts in Hill County, but ideally she would like to have 150. She encourages anyone who is interested in serving as a judge to call the Clerk and Recorder's Office at the Hill County Courthouse at 265-5481.