It's an emergency! Didn't you hear? State Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, wants the upcoming special election to fill Ryan Zinke's seat in Congress to be conducted by all-mail ballot.
To our liberal readers: Don't get worked up just yet. Despite the big, bad "R" after the sponsor's name, Senate Bill 305 isn't meant to suppress Democratic votes, just save Montana counties the $500,000 expense of opening the polls for a special election.
And that's exactly why Montana GOP Chairman Jeff Essmann is freaking out. A few days after SB 305 was introduced, Essmann issued an "emergency chairman's report" highlighting the "long term negative impact" mail ballot elections would have on Republican candidates. Why? Mail-in elections make voting easier, and "lower propensity voters" tend to lean blue.
That's never been a particularly convincing rationale for adding red tape to the democratic process, so Essmann is also trotting out the old voter-fraud boogeyman, arguing that mail-in elections enable Democratic organizers to pressure people into voting by going door-to-door collecting ballots. Essmann similarly used the fact that Montana Women's March organizers are advocating the bill as proof that "George Soros-backed groups are organizing to manipulate our special election." He didn't appear to realize that, by his standard, the very report he was typing was an elaborate exercise in election manipulation.
Essmann essentially forced his party's elected representatives to weigh the in-vogue panic over voter fraud against their principled commitment to fiscal conservatism. Perhaps he can be excused for expecting fellow party leaders to fall on the side of fake news, given their behavior during the presidential election, but his disingenuous alarmism didn't actually go over very well. The bill cleared the GOP-controlled senate with 37 yays to only 13 nays.
Of course, Essmann is paid to be a partisan hack. But he was joined in his crusade by new Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who sought to persuade Senate Republicans by arguing that all-mail elections are a slippery slope to legalized weed. "Is that what you want?" The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Stapleton asking, "because that's what you're going to get."
It's the kind of logic that makes you want to throw your hands up and just write-in "legal weed" for Congress. Just please don't, because that's how people like Stapleton get elected.