A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

8 April 2017

Why 25 May, a Thursday, for the special congressional election?

Updated to include Jeff Essmann’s theory. Governor Bullock’s decision to hold Montana’s special congressional election on the Thursday before Memorial Day continues to puzzle and exasperate me because it defies rational explanation.

Once Zinke’s resignation became effective, Bullock had the flexibility to hold the election on 6 June, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in that month, and in even-numbered years, the date of Montana’s primary election:

MCA 13-25-203. Vacancy in office of United States senator or representative. (1) If a vacancy occurs in the office of United States senator or United States representative, the governor shall immediately order an election to be held to fill the vacancy, except as provided in subsection (3).

The election to fill the unexpired term must be held no less than 85 and no more than 100 days from the date on which the vacancy occurs…

But instead of holding the special election on 6 June, he chose to hold it on 25 May, a Thursday, and for some high schools, the date for graduation ceremonies. When he announced the date, Montana’s news media reported he chose the 85-day minimum because Montana urgently needed representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But does that rationale really make any sense? Holding the election 12 days later would not have any measurable negative effect on Montana. Indeed, given the probability of a Republican win, keeping the seat open as long as possible, and thus withholding a vote that would help Paul Ryan and Donald Trump do damage to programs that Bullock believes benefit Montana, made the most sense from a partisan Democrat’s point of view.

Was it to hold the election while college students were still in school? Probably not. At the University of Montana, final exams end on 12 May. The graduation pageant is the next day. The summer session begins on 22 May, which means students will be in school on 6 June.

Update. Rep. Jeff Essmann (R-Billings) tweeted a theory:


Did Bullock have secret information that holding the election on an oddball date and day would maximize turnout? That’s hard to believe.

And if the goal was to maximize turnout, why did Bullock forego the option of requesting special legislation to combine the May school elections with the special congressional election? That would have at least boosted turnout for the school elections, and saved money in the larger scheme of things.

Both Democrats and Republicans believe that high turnouts help Democrats. Did Bullock choose 25 May because he thought that would depress turnout and thus improve the odds that a Republican would win? If you believe that, you will believe anything.

Montana’s last special congressional election, won by Democrat John Melcher (an immigrant from Iowa), was held on Tuesday, 24 June 1969. According to Evan Barrett, the turnout was 72 percent of the turnout in the 1968 general election. It was the next to the last congressional election in Montana in which the voting age was 21 — and it was held the old fashioned way, by voters casting their ballots in person at public polling places.

Now the voting age is 18, the last day of the election is a Thursday, and our governor is against public polling places because he wants Montanans to cast their ballots by mail.

It’s a strange new world — and I don’t like it.