Who says committee hearings are boring. Montana House Judiciary Chairman Alan Doane chose to clear the room when a “concerned citizen and taxpayer” didn’t agree to the new rules and refused to leave the podium.
There were so many proponents for SB 305, the mail-in ballot bill for the special election, that Doane (R-Bloomfield) changed the rules so that only the name and occupation of each speaker would be allowed, and no testimony beyond that. This didn’t sit well with the woman and she continued on with her discourse.
If I’m a bit vague on exact numbers, names and quotes it’s because the room where the hearing was held was so full I couldn’t get in. I found a monitor in the cafeteria that was showing the hearing but missed some of the action that way.
For example, when Doane cleared the room, microphones were shut off and the camera panned away from the podium. I don’t know if the sergeant-at-arms escorted the woman out or what. The public was allowed back in the room after a cooling-off period.
And the word ‘friction’ doesn’t begin to describe the exchanges between Rep. Ellie Hill-Smith (D-Missoula) and Chairman Doane. He ruled her out of order on a posed question as she tried to get clarity on why Republican Secretary of State Cory Stapleton would oppose the bill when 54 out of our 56 counties are in favor of it.
Tension between the two was also obvious when Hill-Smith challenged the chairman over ending proponent testimony before everyone got to speak.
I’d say the proponents outnumbered the opponents by a ratio of about 4 to 1 – maybe 50 for the bill and a dozen against it.
Stapleton didn’t make many friends in the crowd. Four women sitting at the table next to me, obviously either county election officials or commissioners, kept rolling their eyes and muttering things like, “oh for Christ’s sake” and “bullshit” during Stapleton’s testimony.
Stapleton called the bill a “foolish and shortsighted idea.“
The women did chuckle when Stapleton was asked specific questions on ballot signatures and current voter signatures filed at county election offices.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Proponents hailed from all over the state – mostly county commissioners, clerks and recorders, and election judges – from counties like Judith Basin, Fallon, Liberty, Glacier and Toole.
With their budgets already stretched thin from the 2016 election, when they had to reprint ballots at the last minute after Libertarian U.S. House candidate Mike Fellows died in a car wreck, they implored the committee to pass the bill.
They also shot down claims that mail-in ballots weren’t secure, saying there was no evidence of fraud in the 2016 election when over 65% of ballots cast were mail-in.
The only serious critiques came from Indian Country; Big Horn County to be exact. Two tribal members, a former legislator and a county commissioner, said it would be difficult for many on the Crow Reservation to cast their ballots. They don’t have mailboxes or means to get to the county election office, they said.
This was disputed, as there will be satellite polling places set up on the reservations. There was no mention of how many and where the polling places would be, and this didn’t seem to placate Big Horn’s concerns. (Richland County was the only other county to oppose the bill).
No vote was taken – maybe tomorrow.
Another controversial bill followed on the heels of SB-305. It was the transgender bathroom bill, HB 609. It’s one of the stupider bills introduced this session, and that’s saying a lot. Under this bill, a woman who has transitioned to a man would have use the bathroom of the gender that was assigned at birth, for example. Definitely controversial and I would have loved to stay around for it, but had business in Bozeman.
Why two bills of this magnitude were scheduled for the same morning is beyond me.
I’ll update this post when I get the results of the committee vote, and the floor vote, if it makes it that far.