A proposal, backed by Montana’s top election official and local election administrators, to give counties the option of switching to all-mail voting for elections ran into a buzz saw of opposition Friday. Lining up against House Bill 428 were representatives of groups representing Native Americans, disabled people, the elderly, environmentalists, plus some conservatives, including Tea Party advocate Mark French of Paradise. The bill by Rep. Doug Kary, R-Billings, would make it a local option for county commissioners in to decide whether to switch to vote-by-mail elections for their county in all federal and state elections. Nearly 59 percent of Montana voters last year cast their votes by mail, and the percentage rises every year, Kary told the House State Administration Committee. The bill would save money and reduce the possibility of fraud, he said. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said the percentage of people voting absentee has risen by four times from 15 percent in 2000 to the near 60 percent last year.
“Giving counties the option to hold a mail ballot will enhance efficiencies in Montana’s election process and save taxpayers a considerable amount of money,” McCulloch said, adding: “Voting by mail is not only popular, it is cost-effective and secure.”
Two years ago, McCulloch had a proposal, defeated in the House, to make vote-by-mail mandatory for all state and federal elections.
Not so this session.
“To tell you the truth, I couldn’t find a sponsor on the Republican side or the Democratic side,” she said. “This bill is the best option.”
The president of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders, Rina Fontana Moore of Cascade County, said, “We are moving toward the mail ballot more and more with every election.”