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Party chair mail ballot 'warning' draws ire from Republican election officials


February 22, 2017

Havre Daily News staff

Republican election officials sent out a press release protesting a release from the state chair of their own party in which he said mail ballots for a one-time special election would hurt Republicans in that and future elections.

Montana Republican Party Chairman and Billings state Rep. Jeff Essmann issued an “Emergency Chairman’s Report” assailing Senate Bill 305 — the mail ballot bill for the upcoming special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke — saying the bill will increase voter turn-out of “Lower Propensity Voters” and could give Democrats an edge in the election if it is held by mail ballot.

Essman goes on to say that if the Democrats have success in the special election they will push to make mail ballots the norm in all federal and state elections — something Montana county election officials of both parties have been unsuccessfully pushing for for decades.

The election officials say in a press release that local government officials brought SB 305, sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls, in an effort to save hundreds of thousands of dollars and to provide for an election that would not require trying to secure polling sites and election judges on such late notice.

The bill requests the mail ballots for the special election only, with no reference to future elections.

“This is a sad chapter in the history of the Republican Party,” Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Susan Good-Giese said in the release. “As Republicans, we stand for fiscal conservatism and SB 305 allows us to spend considerably less on this unbudgeted, unanticipated special federal election. I don’t think people realize that the cost of running elections is borne entirely by counties, using property tax revenues.”

“Just what exactly is a ‘lower propensity voter?’” Janice Hoppes, Republican County Commissioner from Pondera County, asked in the release. “This statement further underscores the bad wrap Republicans get about voter suppression.”

“I am so angry about this statement,” Angel Colbry, Republican Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator from Liberty County, said in the release. “To suggest that we forego tremendous cost savings in order to stifle turn-out is an irresponsible statement. That’s not who we are as Republicans.”


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