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Mail ballot proposal draws controversy

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HAMILTON, Mont. - The nation should know soon whether Montana's U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke will be the new Secretary of Interior. But in Montana there is controversy over an expected special election to replace him.

A Senate committee voted 6-2 in support of a bill to allow a mail-only ballot. The Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders requested the bill.

But Montana's secretary of state and the Montana Republican chairman oppose it.

State GOP chairman Jeff Essman, of Billings, said passing the bill would give Democrats an advantage.

He said a mail-only ballot would give Democrats a long-term strategic advantage in controlling the legislature and statewide elected offices.

But Regina Plettenberg, the president of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders, disagrees.

Plettenberg said since no date has been set for a special election, elections administrators have been unable to secure any polling places.

She said mail-in ballots would save the state as much as $500,000.

"From a technical standpoint," she said, "it's going to make it much easier to run, and we will reach more voters."

To get perspective from Montana voters NBC spent time at a Hamilton restaurant. We talked to some Republicans who were eating lunch.

Merlin Hochstetler said he thinks a special election should be run at the polls.

"It's an important election," said Hochstetler. "I think as citizens we need to take the time to go down and cast our ballots and vote."

But Kip Zsupnik supports a mail-in election.

"It saves a lot of money," said Zsupnik. "It saves time for all of us."

Montana has had mail-in ballot elections for more than 25 years.

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