The fight over Montana’s only congressional seat was thrust into the legislative arena Thursday, as lawmakers continued debate over whether to conduct the May 25 special election by mail. Passions flared in the House Judiciary Committee as dozens of people — some driving more than 400 miles to attend a hearing — urged lawmakers to save counties from financial hardship and logistical nightmares by allowing the election to be held with only mail-in ballots. So heated was the hearing that the committee’s chair, Republican Rep. Alan Doane of Bloomfield, halted proceedings and cleared the room after one woman refused to end her testimony. It would cost more than $2 million to hold an election, and counties say they could save as much as $750,000 by conducting the vote through the mail.
“I want to be sure the people who want to vote can vote,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls. “We’re talking about whether people are going to be able to vote their congressman.”
The congressional contest between Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist is garnering national attention, as Democrats attempt to mobilize after their embarrassing showing last November. Libertarian Mark Wicks will also be on the ballot.
With only about two months before the special election, counties have little time to print ballots, find polling places, and hire election judges.