Accusations of voter suppression are already flying ahead of Montana’s anticipated special election. That would be held after Congressman Ryan Zinke vacates his seat, pending Senate confirmation of his appointment to become secretary of the interior. The cost of this special election falls on county governments, and many say they are too broke to set up polling places after the election last November. “We’re going to have to rob money out of another budget to pay for this election.” That’s Duane Mitchell, a Richland County commissioner, speaking in support of a Republican-sponsored bill on Tuesday that would allow counties to scrap most polling places and run the special election as a mail-in-ballot. “It would save us, we figure, $6,000 – $8,000.” It could also increase voter turnout, according to Montana GOP Chairman Jeff Essmann. And that, he says, could cost Republicans the election.
In an email sent to supporters on Tuesday, Essmann urged his party to vote no on the bill. A vote-by-mail election, he wrote, would increase participation among people who are less likely to vote.
State Democrats, he said, fare better with those kinds of voters than Republicans do because they can, “organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door,” Essmann said.
On Thursday, Essmann elaborated. He said Montana Democrats have more money than Republicans, and are able to hire people to go door to door and collect ballots: “Obviously I think that presents a potential danger to the long-term election of Republicans.”