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Republicans wrong — again — on mail ballots


March 14, 2017

Republican leaders have now shown two sides of a coin in their opposition to mail ballots in the election to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke — and both sides are wrong.

Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, chair of the House State Administration Committee, sent a column out to newspapers saying the election has been turned into a political football, and he would oppose using mail ballots in the election because, he says, making it easier to vote will suppress votes. Even though the mail ballots now used in every off-year election have much higher voter turnout.

And he has sent out this column just a few weeks after the state chair of his party, Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, sent out a plea in a mass email asking people to oppose the mail ballots because they would hurt the Republican Party by getting more people to vote.

As was printed on this page, Essmann was wrong. Any time more people vote, the better it is for democracy.

Not all Republicans agree with Essmann or Mandeville. Some, like Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, and Liberty County Clerk and Recorder Angel Colbry are staunch supporters of using mail ballots for the special election.

And some Republicans are supporters of Montana using mail ballots in every election.

Mandeville is wrong. On many levels.

First, he writes that Gov. Steve Bullock politicized the election by setting it as quickly as possible after Zinke’s resignation to take over the Department of the Interior. Bullock should have set the election for June 6 not May 25, the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend, Mandeville writes.

This after some Republicans — such as U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. — complained by asserting Democrats were holding up the replacement of Zinke’s House seat by delaying his confirmation — which ended up delayed by the Republican-led Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Now, Mandeville is saying Montana should go longer without a U.S. representative.

The schedule will interfere with people’s plans for the weekend, Mandeville writes. This, apparently, is politicizing from Bullock because only Republicans have plans over that weekend.

And his next statement is that mail ballots suppress votes because some people like to go to the polls — having a mail ballot will keep them from voting, Mandeville writes.

Of course, it also eliminates the problem with having the election right before Memorial Day. People can drop off or mail their ballots and do whatever they want for that weekend.

In fact, if they want to, they can wait till May 25, go into their clerk and recorder’s office and fill out the ballot in a voting station just as if they did not have a mail ballot.

And that is just like every off-year election, which Montana conducts with mail ballots the same as other states do with every election.

This likely conservative Republican says the only reason to use a mail ballot is because it will save money. This in a year after counties had to reprint ballots after the Libertarian presidential candidate, Mike Fellows, died of injuries sustained in a car crash. For some counties, the savings could be the difference between staying in their budget and going broke.

So, we have one Republican saying mail ballots will get too many people voting and that is bad for Republicans. We have another Republican saying it will suppress votes and that is bad.

It would be nice for voters if the message being sent out by the GOP was consistent, but it would be even better if either side was right instead of dead wrong.

It doesn’t matter whether voters want to vote for Mark Wicks, Greg Gianforte, Rob Quist or Mickey Mouse. Saying making it easier to vote while, at the same time, saving counties money in a one-time election for one candidate, will somehow favor one party over another or saying it will suppress votes is ridiculous.

And it is wrong.


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