Montana Election Office Pushes for Mail Ballots

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana’s Democratic secretary of state said Wednesday she’s working with a Republican lawmaker to switch the state over to mail ballots for all elections.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said counties that run polling places and elections could save more than $2 million each election cycle under a plan that she expects would dramatically increase voter turnout.

Many voters currently mail ballots in through the absentee ballot process. But election officials must still staff and open polling places for others.

Past efforts at mail ballots have failed, sometimes with Republican opposition and other times due to Democratic opposition. McCulloch said the revamped proposal is far more thorough.

“When there’s an absence of information, and accurate information, the answer is often ‘no,'” McCulloch said.

Rep. Pat Ingraham of Thompson Falls — who used to be a local election official — will pitch the bill to fellow lawmakers and she expects Republicans who hold large majorities will be supportive since mail ballots are part of the GOP platform.

“I think a lot of people have overcome their fears and trust election administrators to do their jobs,” Ingraham said.

McCulloch said the state made it much easier to get an absentee ballot in 1999, and interest has steadily increased since then. She expect mail ballots will greatly improve voter turnout, as it did in Oregon when that state put a similar system in place.

Under House Bill 130, all local, municipal, state and federal elections will be covered. But schools could retain the option of holding their elections at a polling place.

McCulloch said there would be special drop boxes available for voters who perhaps don’t want to buy a stamp. And she said voters who want could still go to the county election office and complete their mailed ballot in a voting booth, handing the finished product to the office staff.

The legislation requires a more stringent review of voter files to make sure addresses are current, and matches voters against a statewide database of voters to ensure against fraud. It also automatically enrolls current voters in the mail ballot system, McCulloch said.

The proposal would go into effect in 2012 if it clears the Legislature and the governor’s desk.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.