The risk of making voting easier for their Democratic citizens has turned Montana Republicans off a bill that would save the state some substantial money.
As Montana's House Speaker, Austin Knudsen, a Republican, has the power to decide what makes it to the floor for the lawmakers' consideration. However, ThinkProgress reported that he is refusing to schedule a vote for a proposal that would allow counties in Montana to hold an all-mail ballot in the May 25 special congressional election. Journalist Zack Ford points out that since Montana has only 6.5 people per square mile, ranking 48th in the country in terms of population density, this would save the state $750,000. It would also, in one fell swoop, make voting accessible to everyone, but some Republicans have a problem with that.
When restrictions to voting are removed in favor of a system that is more inclusive, history shows that Democrats cast more ballots. Indeed, in the 2016 election, states that passed laws suppressing voter's rights swung in President Donald Trump's favor.
According to a study conducted by researches at the University of California, San Diego, and Bucknell University, there is a clear link between strict voter ID laws and lower Democratic turnout. While Republican turnout drops 3.6 percent in general elections when there are excessively rigid voting policies in place, Democratic turnout drops even more, at 8.8 percent.
The Montana bill was first introduced by Republican senator Steve Fitzpatrick who called it a "fiscally responsible thing to do." However, his bill prompted panic among some colleagues and Chairman Jeff Essmen sent out an "emergency report" in which he expressed worry that this new bill would give Democrats an advantage.
“All mail ballots give the Democrats an inherent advantage in close elections due to their ability to organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door.”
Fitzpatrick responded to his party's concerns by insisting that it would make no difference, since many of Montana's voters already submit their ballots via mail. That set some minds at ease and got the legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate, but then things took a different turn.
According to Ford, when Montana House Democrats tried to force a vote in late March so that there would be enough time to put the plan into effect logistically, the bill was promptly tabled after a party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee. The move to boot the vote to the committee was initiated by Knudsen and seen by many as an attempt to kill the proposal.
Republican Rep. Geraldine Custer tried to save the legislation by bypassing the committee with a floor vote, but she secured only 51 votes of the 60-votes necessary. Montana's governor, Democrat Steve Bullock, stepped in with his own strategy and put the language of the proposal into another piece of legislation to be considered by the House and Senate.
With Knudsen refusing to consider the bill though, it will likely die, and Montana will continue to spend money it could have easily saved. A spokesperson for the speaker has said that he regards the proposal as "bad policy" and that it has already been "vetted" and rejected.
“All he’s accomplishing is spending more taxpayer money to get fewer people to vote,” Bullock told MTN News.
But to politicians like Knudsen, who place their party's power above all else, it may just be worth it.
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