At an early morning caucus Wednesday, GOP leaders warned that a bill to give counties the option of a mail-ballot election to fill Montana’s congressional seat could cost Republicans the election, even though proponents say it would save taxpayers money. Despite that warning, the Senate’s State Administration Committee approved the bill on a bipartisan 6-2 vote, later in the day. Montana’s anticipating a special congressional election late this spring to fill the U.S. House seat now occupied by Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican. President Donald Trump has nominated Zinke to be his secretary of the interior, and his confirmation vote is pending before the U.S. Senate.
At the Senate Republican caucus meeting, state GOP Chair and Rep. Jeff Essmann of Billings and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton both spoke against Senate Bill 305, by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls.
Essmann, a former state senator, said SB 305 was brought with good intentions, but he warned it could hurt Republicans.
The GOP chairman repeated comments he made in an “Emergency Chairman’s Report” email he sent this week with an analysis contending that the bill would disadvantage Republicans in the special election. Essmann predicted a mail-ballot election could increase the turnout of “low-propensity voters” and give Democrats an edge in the special election.