Montana 2011 Legislature

Jan 28, 2011 7:56 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

Vote-by-mail falls in MT Legislature amidst heated rhetoric

The proposed measure to mandate voting by mail in Montana failed in the Legislature on Friday, going down 42 to 57. The outcome came at a surprise to many, since the measure had passed a second reading on Thursday in a 57-43 vote.

The bill would have required all elections, except school elections, to be conducted via mail.

On Thursday, Representative Tom McGillvray (R-Billings) proposed an amendment to the bill to strike language that public outreach efforts would be targeted to colleges and reservations. McGillvray said, "I consider it to be unfair language, in that it treats other persons in a different way that other people."

The amendment passed with Representative Tony Belcourt (D-Box Elder) opposing it. He told the House that in his district, he had a 7% voter turnout. He added, "We need to get some outreach out there and get more people voting."

On Friday in the Democratic House Caucus, Representative Carolyn Pease-Lopez (D-Billings) stood up and told her peers she hesitated to speak out on the issue on the House floor for fear she will hurt the Democratic cause.

Pease-Lopez said, "I feel so much hatred from your caucus [House Republicans] if you had your way we [Native Americans] would all be dead," addressing her comments to the Republicans who were present in the meeting.

House Minority Leader Jon Sesso told his fellow Democrats he was sorry for not leading them in that discussion on the Floor.

"We have to believe in each other and we have to look out for each other. Although I have had a running theory that sometimes silence is golden and sometimes silence is the better part of resisting notions we disagree with, other times it is not right. It is not right not to stand and stick up for the people that are our caucus," Sesso told the Democrats

Republicans released the following statement after the comments from Pease-Lopez:

"With the increased attention on civility in politics, we are disappointed and disheartened by the shameful comments from Representative Pease-Lopez and the ensuing applause from the Democrat caucus. Numerous Native Americans and Native groups testified against this bill in committee. Their testimony influenced many members to vote against the bill. To claim that the GOP caucus, which includes several Native Americans, would want an entire people killed is entirely untrue and deeply offensive."

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch released the following statement:

"Today's vote proves that fiction too easily trumps fact in the Montana Legislature. It's a sad day when elected legislators let politics and scare tactics stand in the way of doing what's right. Politics overpowered the greater good, and Montanans lost. I commend Representative Pat Ingraham for her hard work in moving our bill forward. It's time to put Vote-By-Mail on the ballot, and let Montana voters decide."

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