Many letters and opinions have been written about running the upcoming May 25, Special Congressional Election by mail.
I have been running elections for our county for going on 19 years now. When I first started, elections were much different than they are today. We had very few absentee voters. In fact I can remember when sending 300 absentee ballots was a huge number in our county. Now we send out 13,000. We no longer really run poll elections. They are more of hybrid between mailing absentees and poll locations, except that now the voters who are casting absentee ballots are outnumbering the voters who are casting ballots at the polls.
Opponents of mail ballot are concerned that mail ballot elections are more open to fraud than poll elections. They point out that voted ballots can be picked up by anyone and delivered to the election office or not delivered, that is their concern I think.
They go on to give an example of the last election where there were groups out “harvesting” ballots. The example they are giving was a poll election and the ballots in question were absentee ballots.
My point here is that I completely agree that we need to educate our voters and let them know that if they are voting by mail, whether it be a mail ballot election or absentees in a poll election, they should either return the ballot themselves through the mail or in person at their election office or a drop site or give it to someone they know and trust.
That being said, these groups are doing nothing wrong by asking to help voters by delivering their ballots to the election office to be sure their vote is cast and counted. However, if a voter is going to do this, the voter should contact the election office to be sure their ballot was received.
Again, I think this outreach and education must be done for all elections, regardless of the method we use to run them as the voters in our state have embraced voting by mail, which is evident in the high number of absentee voters that we currently have.
The opponents have also said that those who want to run this election by mail are nihilist. I had to look that one up. The dictionary defines this as: a person who believes that life is meaningless and rejects all religious and moral principles.
This effort to ask the legislature to allow counties to run the upcoming special federal election by mail was started by the election administrators and county commissioners in the state. I know we are all politicians but I struggle to see how that term relates to us wanting to run this election by mail.
The fact is that both groups, in a bi-partisan manner, united behind this idea as we knew running this special election was going to be a challenge for the counties for many reasons. We are all worried about the availability of polling places and election workers, voter turnout and the cost of this un-budgeted election.
The opponents have gone on to say that they are concerned that low-propensity voters will vote. That is, they are concerned that a voter who may not be motivated to go to the polls to vote would be more motivated to return a ballot mailed to them.
I know their concern again is that these ballots may be picked up by individuals or groups for the voter to be delivered (or not delivered). The part they are correct about is the turnout will most definitely be higher if we run this election by mail. If you look at the history of mail ballot elections, the turnout is always higher. We have been running mail ballot elections in this state for over 25 years.
Many districts like fire, irrigation, municipal and school elections have been running elections this way successfully for trustee, levy and bond elections. We run them by mail to save the districts money and the turnout is always better when we run these elections by mail versus running them at the polls.
Again, I think the election offices, the Secretary of State and the parties themselves need to educate our voters regarding the options to return their ballot and the options they have to track their ballot when it is cast by mail. You can go to any election office website or the Secretary of State’s website to track your ballot online or you can call your local election office directly.
I am proud to run elections in our state and I am proud of the group of elections administrators that I have the privilege to work with. We have over 100 years of election experience between us. We work very closely as a group to insure that the elections are run openly, honestly, and consistently throughout the state.
Decisions that we make are not based on partisan politics but rather on what is best for our voters and the process. I always hear people say that they wish politicians would work together and do what is right. I think that is what your election administrators and county commissioners are trying to do here. I hope you will support us and contact your legislators. Ask them to put their politics aside and do what is best for our counties and our state. Ask them to vote yes on SB 305!
– Regina Plettenberg
Ravalli County Election Administrator, President of the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders