March 3, 2017
March 3, 2017
Commissioners Doug Tucker, John Grewell, and John Prinkki and Administrative Assistant Angela Newell were present.
2:00 Seth Berglee, Deputy Clerk and Recorder Christine Stovall, and Election Administrator in Training Macque Bohleen met with Commissioners to discuss SB 305 to allow for special mail ballot election to fill House vacancy left by Congressman Zinkee. David Lehnherr, Betty Brekhus, Jerry Brekhus, Martha Brown, Hope Smith, Janet Gale, Jacqueline Papez, Norma Scheidecker, Becky Grey, Matthew Heaton, Michael Keys, Anna Drew, Polly Richter, Lea Page, Mimi Lockman, Chris Mullaney, Mary Cameron, Julie Holzer, Eleanor Guerrero Carbon County News, Katy Kern, Judy Christensen, Kristin Keys, Jael Kampfe, Dianne Dimitch, Josh O’Shea, and Brittney Saliee were present. Stillwater County’s Clerk and Recorder / Election Administrator Heidi Stadel participated via phone.
2:00 Commissioner Tucker opened the meeting and Deputy Clerk and Recorder Christine Stovall reviewed the financial aspect of the upcoming special election to consider with regard to Senate Bill 305. Senate Bill 305 would allow Montana counties the option to conduct the special election by mail ballot rather than a poll election which is currently required for all Federal Elections. The 2016 General Election cost $27,781 not including staff wages. The Elections Department estimates conducting the special election as a poll election will cost $17,070 vs. $8,670 for a mail ballot election. Currently, the Elections Office has $9,876 remaining in their budget through the end of the Fiscal Year June 30, 2017. With a mail ballot election, the department’s expenditures above the budgeted amount would be less; a poll election would put the office significantly over budget. The Office’s budget is especially tight this year after having to reprint ballots after the death of the Libertarian candidate. It was noted Carbon County is non-partisan, so voter party preference is not recorded in the voting system. Christine and Macque expressed concerns about the timing of the May 25th special election. It is a Thursday rather than a Tuesday when Federal Elections are typically held. They also expressed concerns with the election being so close to the Memorial Day holiday weekend and high school graduations that it may be difficult to get election judges to man the polls and voter turnout may decrease. Currently 42% of Carbon County voters vote absentee and the elections office believes that number could increase with the timing of the election. Christine and Macque emphasized that Senate Bill 305 would only allow for the special election to fill Congressman Zinke’s House seat and would not change how future elections are conducted.
Macque asked Representative Berglee why he opposed the Bill. He responded that he is currently undecided and has some questions including why the Secretary of State opposes the bill. He also asked how a mail ballot election would be run. Christine noted each active registered voter would receive a ballot by mail as if they were registered absentee.
Heidi noted her office shares Carbon’s concerns about availability of election judges and polling places because of the holiday weekend and high school graduations. She noted that the office is in a time crunch to address these issues whereas typically they have two years to prepare for a federal election. Macque added that finding an alternate polling place is not always easy on such short notice because of ADA accessibility requirements.
Representative Berglee asked if there were State or Federal funds that could help offset the fiscal concerns; both election offices were told there would absolutely be no State or Federal funds available for this election and the total cost would be the responsibility of each county. Commissioner Grewell commented that no matter where the funds come from they are still tax payer dollars. Representative Berglee also expressed concerns about people collecting absentee ballots in past elections that has cast some doubt by individuals if their votes were counted. He believes there are individuals in the County that may feel disenfranchised if elections were conducted by all mail ballot; Macque agreed. Heidi commented House Bill 305 would only affect this special election and not any future elections and would allow the offices to be more prepared under the current time constraints. Heidi also noted the Bill would still allow counties to conduct a poll election if they desired to. Christine noted the issues with absentee ballots occurred during a poll election. Jael Kampfe requested facts indicating past voter fraud; Representative Berglee commented he had concrete examples of ballots being collected in other counties. Commissioner Grewell agreed that voter fraud and the integrity of the voting system were a valid concern, but could be addressed separately. Dave Lehnherr stated he would give Representative Berglee $1,000 if he could prove there was more than 1% voter fraud. Jacqueline Papez asked Representative Berglee about Representative Jeff Essman’s letter of February 21, 2017; Representative Berglee noted he has not read the letter.
Mimi Lockman noted the fraud issue was brought up as a concern for supporting the bill. She thanked Representative Berglee for attending the meeting and requested he review the fiscal impact of the bill. She believes it is good for more people to participate in elections as they would by mail ballot and asked why the County should pay more for less participation. Michael Keys noted he and his wife travel for work and both routinely vote by mail ballot as absentee voters; mail ballots work in today’s busy world. Martha Brown also thanked Representative Berglee for attending the meeting and requested he communicate with constituents once he has made a decision on how he will vote; Representative Berglee commented he would put an op-ed piece in the paper.
Christine asked if there were any estimates as to when the bill would be heard by the Judiciary Committee; Representative Berglee expects it will be heard soon. Elections office requested he do what he can to expedite that hearing. Christine noted the Secretary of State will certify the election candidates next Friday so there is a significant time crunch for the Bill to be resolved.
Commissioner Tucker thanked Representative Berglee for coming and listening to the County’s concerns.
Clerk Commission Presiding Officer
Respectfully submitted: Angela Newell, Administrative Assistant