FHQ often talks about the unintended consequences of electoral reform and/or even the sometimes seemingly simple task of altering state election law, and this legislation appears to be a victim of those unintended consequences. The hearing on the bill was enlightening (read more here). At issue for both supporters and opponents of the bill was voter confusion. Supporters claimed the bill would tamp down on voter confusion by asking less of them in terms of appearing at the polls for multiple elections (thus increasing the likelihood that voters feel they have already voted in the second election in the sequence). In turn, it was argued by the bill's sponsor, Senator Art Wittich (R-35th, Bozeman), that the legislation would have the effect of increasing turnout.
Opponents of the bill, on the other hand, made the case for just the opposite; that voter confusion would increase because of the potential that they would go to vote in different locations (or by mail) in odd and even year elections. It was further argued that this would place additional constraints on elections administrators in terms of providing voters with the proper ballot combining all of the various districts (state house, state senate, school, etc.).
One other point that received some attention -- something we have increasingly heard involving presidential primaries recently -- was the potential for cost savings as a result of consolidating elections. Even that point was disputed by the speaker representing the Montana secretary of state at the hearing, Lisa Kimmet. That dispute is likely why the fiscal note attendant to the bill reveals no cost savings in the event the bill were to pass the legislature and be signed into law.
Perhaps owing to the fact that the next presidential primary in Montana is over three years away, the slight shift forward to an earlier date on the presidential primary calendar was only mentioned in the opening remarks by the bill's sponsor, Senator Wittich. He did make the point then that the earlier date may be of benefit to the state -- bringing more attention -- but that was the extent of the discussion on the presidential contest.
If passed and signed, the bill would move the Montana primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. That is the same date in which state law calls for primaries in both Indiana and North Carolina. It was also a point on the 2008 calendar that was still competitive in the Democratic race, but was outside of the window of competitiveness on the Republican side in both 2008 and 2012.
NOTE: Though the bill is likely destined to die in committee it will be added to the 2016 calendar until that death becomes official at the end of the session next month.
1 Legislation with the same intent has come up if not been introduced in every legislative session since 2007 (see 2007, 2009 and 2011).
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