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House committee stuck on mail-in ballot legislation

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MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana's special congressional election is nine weeks away. While candidates are campaigning, lawmakers in Helena are having a fight of their own over Senate Bill 305, which would allow counties to choose if they want to run a mail-in only election.

Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee discussed the bill.

It started when State Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) introduced his bill to the committee.

"This bill is the fiscally conservative thing to do and fiscally responsible thing to do," explained Fitzpatrick. Passing the bill could mean counties would save 30 to 40 percent of what a regular election would cost, because they wouldn't have to reserve, set up, and pay for polling places and employees.

"When the counties adopted their 2017 fiscal year budgets, they budgeted normally for a presidential election," said Geoff Badenoch, the chair of the Missoula Elections Advisory Board.

Badenoch was at the hearing Wednesday morning.

Montana's Secretary of the State doesn't see it the same way.

"We are not here to run the cheapest elections," Corey Stapleton told the committee. "We're here to run the best elections. Elections cost money. We need people. We need eyes. We need judges. We need clerks, we need our office. This is a foolish, short-sighted idea."

"It's the combination of the cost, finding the facilities and finding the necessary personnel," explained Badenoch. "The state of Montana pushes the cost of these special elections to local government, so the local governments are kind of left holding the bag for a situation they had absolutely nothing to do with."

The bill already passed the Senate. The House committee has yet to vote on the issue. They will need to pass it with a recommendation for the full House to vote on the issue, and for it to have any effect the House will need to approve it by April 10.

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