Montana Republicans are demanding the state spend $750,000 it didn’t budget to avoid what the GOP sees as a potential political catastrophe: high voter turnout in an upcoming special election.
The state didn’t plan for spending on federal elections in 2017, and for good reason. Neither senator is running until 2018, and its lone House member, Ryan Zinke, seemed entrenched unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell taps him to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
President Donald Trump, however, named Zinke interior secretary, setting the stage for a May 25 special election to fill the House seat. The race has received national attention, particularly from Democrats, who hope anti-Trump sentiment and increased Democratic Party activism since November’s election will boost their candidate Rob Quist to a surprise victory.
State lawmakers concluded that the special election would cost an unbudgeted $750,000, so they set about figuring a way to do it more cheaply.
A Republican lawmaker proposed a one-time mail ballot system. At the time, nobody in their right mind thought the election would be seriously contested ― Democrats haven’t won a House seat in Montana since 1994, after all ― and the state Senate approved the cost-saving measure.
But then something strange happened: The election got real. And Republicans who often boast of fiscal conservatism had a change of heart.