Counties prepare for special election


HAMILTON, Mont. - As legislators debate whether to permit a mail-only ballot on the May 25 special election for Montana's U.S. House seat, local elections administrators are scrambling to make sure everything is in order for a poll election.

Next week a House judiciary committee will consider the bill that would make the election to replace Republican Ryan Zinke mail-in.

While Montana's GOP chairman says Senate Bill 305 would give Democrats an unfair advantage Montana clerks and recorders support it, saying it would reach more voters and save Montana upwards of $500,000.

But mail-in or poll, clerks are working to prepare for either.

The special congressional election is a little more than two months away. But May 25 is deep into spring events and a prelude to the Memorial Day holiday.

Hamilton High School's gym is a polling place in most elections. But the school will be preparing for its graduation ceremony.

"I had to relocate our largest polling place, which is the Hamilton school, " said Ravalli County elections administrator Regina Plettenberg. "I'm relocating it to the fairgrounds, to the commercial building."

Plettenberg would have preferred the First Interstate Center at the fairgrounds, but it was booked.

"I'm hoping the weather cooperates," she said. "There's no heat there, but it is May 25, so we're hoping it won't be a rainy day. I'm hoping it will be a nice, sunny day."

The elections administrator likes the fairgrounds because it is close to Hamilton High School.

It is centrally located, and the fairgrounds recently fixed the sidewalks so they are handicapped accessible.

Plettenberg said she will also mail out notifications to make sure voters know there is a change in the polling place.

She also must make sure elections judges are in place and are paid.

She said Ravalli County would save between $12,000 and $16,000 if it was run by mail.

But many voters say the congressional election is too important not to have polling places.

About half of Ravalli County voters vote absentee, and many of them mail in their ballots anyway.

NBC Montana met Ginny Mellgren as she was getting her nails done at a Hamilton salon.

"It's denying us our right in a way when we just have one way to vote," she said. "We need to do both."

But we also talked with Hamilton barber Terry Stevens as he cut a customer's hair. Stevens supports the mail-in plan.

"I think it's great," he said."I see nothing wrong with it. It saves money and it's easier."

The legislature has yet to decide whether to approve the mail-in.

But for elections administrators there's no time to wait to find out. They have a lot of work to do, and are preparing for either outcome.