Montana’s Republican party leadership is opposing a Republican-sponsored measure to reform the state’s elections, warning that it would “give Democrats an inherent advantage” due to their ability to increase voter turnout door-to-door. In an email titled Emergency Chairman’s Report, the Republican party chairman, Jeff Essmann, set off a furious war of words, with Democrats accusing Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote because it might mean a loss for the party. The dispute focuses on a bipartisan bill before the Montana legislature that would make an upcoming election to replace Representative Ryan Zinke, a Republican nominated by Donald Trump to be interior secretary, an all-mail ballot vote. Essmann warned that if the bill passed, the Democrats would have an advantage “in close elections due to their ability to organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door”. “This a Republican saying, no, let’s not let everybody vote,” said Nancy Keenan, the state’s Democratic party leader. “This is wrong, and it is wrong that he would attempt to suppress votes.”
The measure’s sponsor, Republican senator Steve Fitzpatrick, has said concerns that Democrats would unduly benefit are overstated. “It’s important that we have as much of a chance as we can to get people out to vote as well,” Fitzpatrick said.
The election, Fitzpatrick added, comes at an unusual time. The all-mail ballot, which only covers the 2017 special congressional election, was merely designed to save counties as much as $500,000. The mail ballot has been in place in Montana for a decade, but this proposal would eliminate in-person voting for this special election.
“It is a little amusing – Republicans are always saying they’re fiscal conservatives but they want a system that’s costing counties a lot of money,” Keenan said.