Gov. Steve Bullock revived debate over mail-only voting on Friday when he used his veto power to rewrite a routine bill to allow counties to conduct the May 25 congressional election by mail. The governor’s action caught Secretary of State Corey Stapleton off guard. His fellow Republicans in the House, who had killed the bill last month, were scrambling to see if there was a way to prevent the governor’s changes from being debated and getting a floor vote. They could run down the clock — because they can choose to take up the matter any time during the remaining days of the session. The 11th-hour political maneuver might be too late for some counties, who are already planning to print ballots, arrange polling sites and assemble thousands of poll workers.
Fewer than seven weeks remain before the special election to fill the state’s only congressional seat, which was left vacant when Ryan Zinke resigned to lead the U.S. Interior Department. Republican Greg Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks are contesting for the post.
“At this point, many of us clerks can’t keep fighting the battle in Helena. Our focus has to be on the election at hand,” said Regina Plettenberg, the chief elections officer for Ravalli County. “At this point, we are planning on running this election at the polls.”
Using his veto pen, Bullock rewrote a separate election bill awaiting his signature. The original bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bryce Bennett of Missoula, mostly addressed mundane election rules such as noticing requirements and clarifying deadlines for local elections.