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Special election could be costly for Montana taxpayers

Special election could be costly

MISSOULA, Mont. - The Montana House is debating a bill that elections officers say would save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Senate Bill 305, introduced by State Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls), would make May’s special election for U.S. House a mail-in ballot. The bill already passed the Senate and is now waiting on the House.

Jeff Essmann, Montana GOP Chairman, says SB 305 gives Democrats an unfair advantage.

In an email Essman wrote, “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.”

"It's hard to say what a huge population of people are going to do,” said James Lafountain, who says he’s registered to vote in Missoula County. Lafountain is planning to vote in the special election.

In Missoula and Gallatin counties, election staff tells NBC Montana a vote at the polls could cost $230,000. They say a mail-in election would cost around $100,000.

Flathead election staff are expecting to spend anywhere from $150,000 to $175,000 for an election at the polls.

Election workers around the state are preparing for an in-person election, even though the House has until April 10 to vote on the bill.

The special election was unplanned, which means counties didn’t budget money in the general fund to pay for it. Election staff says not only will you see the cost of the election on your property taxes, but departments like 911 and the Offices of Emergency Management that run off money from the general fund will feel an effect too.

Legislative staff tells NBC Montana the bill will likely get a second reading later this week.

Absentee ballots for the special election will be mailed out on May 1.

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