HELENA, Mont. — The subject of elections continues to be a hot topic in Helena. In the Senate State Administration Committee, a pair of bills that would modify Montana elections had hearings on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 190 would expand the situations where races go to recounts.
Under the proposed legislation, races with a margin of .05% or less would to an automatic recount, double the current 0.25% cutoff. The losers of races with a margin between 0.5-1% would be able to request a recount if they post bonds to cover the costs, also double the current margin of 0.25-1%
The goal here is to add a little transparency to make sure that when there are close races, recounts are available to individuals like ourselves,” said State Sen. Forrest Mandeville (R-Columbus), SB 190 sponsor.
There were no opponents to the bill at the hearing. It is unclear if it would apply to school board elections, and the committee has asked for clarification before taking executive action.
Senate Bill 189, sponsored by State Sen. Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton), would require a three-fourths supermajority of legislators in both chambers to allow federal and state special elections be conducted by absentee ballot. Regular federal, state and county elections are not allowed to be done by all absentee ballot, although an exception was made in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Proponents claim that absentee ballots or more ripe for fraudwhile opponents say absentee ballots are more accessible and just as secure and this would suppress turnout.
“I see the absentee or mail in ballots as having far more room for errors than when you just go to the polling station and you do what we should all do, which is vote in person,” said Gina Reilly, a Helena resident that served as a poll worker in 2022.
“We think that reducing the use of absentee ballots would severely restrict the ability of rural folks to vote. Many of our members have to drive very long distances to get to a polling place,” said Jasmine Krotkov, a former state legislator representing the Montana Farmers Union.
Manzella says she will be proposing an amendment allowing the Secretary of State to have the legislature vote by poll if they are not in session. She added that she did not consult the Secretary of State about this legislation.