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Panel kills bill restricting absentee ballots in Montana

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Posted at 7:30 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 09:30:35-05

HELENA — A House committee has killed a bill that would have made it harder to request and receive absentee ballots in Montana, after one member called it “probably the worst bill I’ve seen all session.”

The House State Administration Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to table House Bill 455 – just one day after hearing the measure.

“There are tons of things in this bill that are just not workable,” said Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth. “This bill is probably the worst bill I’ve seen all session, if you want the truth of the matter. And it needs to die.”

The bill from Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, would have required voters to request absentee ballots in-person, every election year, instead of signing up to be on a permanent list to receive absentee ballots in the mail.

Sheldon-Galloway said she sponsored the bill at the request of constituents, who felt that under the current system, absentee ballots can continue to be mailed to addresses, even though the voter has moved or died, creating opportunities for voter fraud.

Yet a broad array of opponents, including county election officials, and advocates for the disabled, students and Native Americans, said Montana’s system has many built-in security checks to prevent voter fraud.

Custer, a former county clerk and recorder, said 75 percent of Montanans are voting via mailed, absentee ballots, and that HB455 would needlessly upset that system and make it harder for people to obtain those ballots.

“It’s like going back 100 years with the election law,” she said.