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

Summer blogging schedule

For a variety of reasons, among them allowing the editor and janitor to enjoy the fine weather, Flathead Memois on a blogging lite schedule for July and August, and may not post every day.

23 July 2017 — 2318 mdt

Red herrings, rump elections, phantom fraudsters of the ballot box


Trump’s “I can pardon myself” is a red herring to distract us from the GOP’a assault on health care. The debate is fascinating, but the issue isn’t ripe (except in a figurative sense). Meanwhile, reports Politico, Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants remain determined to pass a bill that guts the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid:

Senior Senate Republicans believe the high-profile vote expected Tuesday — followed by conservative backlash over the GOP’s failure to fulfill its seven-year campaign pledge — might provoke enough heat from the base to bring senators back to the negotiating table.

It seems like a long shot. But McConnell may be playing the long game — making his members walk the plank not as an act of desperation but as part of a strategy that just might work. He’s used it before to get what he wants.

If the vote fails, “I don’t think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate leadership. “We’re going to need a little longer runway to get to 50 votes on something.“

“Even if we fail on the procedural vote next week,” Thune added,” all that really does is say ‘OK, we’ll regroup and then take another run at this.’”

Ignore the red herring, Democrats and progressives. Keep your eye on health care, and keep the heat on Steve Daines, et al.

Hold the bottled water zoning election in November, 2018

Supporters of a county level citizens initiative to expand a zoning district south of Kalispell collected enough signatures to put the issue on the general election ballot. Now, reports the Interlake, they’re demanding that the election be held in November, 2017, concurrently with the scheduled municipal elections (which are nonpartisan and usually result in low turnouts). A countywide election would cost $120,000.

As an alternative, the initiative leader’s attorneys suggest, Flathead’s County Commissioners could revisit the matter and approve the zoning change they denied earlier, thereby provoking the ballot measure campaign.

That’s certainly an option, and a legitimate option. But I find myself wondering whether the initiative’s proponents actually wanted to put the issue to the voters, or simply intended to qualify the measure for the ballot as a way of coercing the commissioners into changing their minds. “Changing your minds costs very little,” the initiative’s backers seem to be saying, “but putting the issue to the voters will cost them $120,000, and they will blame you for the cost.”

The voters, of course, might blame of cost of a special county election not on the commissioners but on the initiative’s backers.

My layman’s reading of Montana’s constitution and MCA is that water bottling zoning initiative must be put to the voters in the general election of November, 2018. Here’s the MCA’s section on the timing of general elections:

MCA 13-1-104. Times for holding general elections.

(1) A general election must be held throughout the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

(2) In every even-numbered year, the following elections must be held on general election day:

(a) an election on any ballot issue submitted to electors pursuant to Article III, section 6, unless the legislature orders a special election, or Article XIV, section 8, of the Montana constitution;

(b) an election of federal officers, members of the legislature, state officers, multicounty district officers elected at a statewide election, district court judges, and county officers; and

(c) any other election required by law to be held on general election day in an even-numbered year.

(3) In every odd-numbered year, the following elections must be held on the same day as the general election:

(a) an election of officers for municipalities required by law to hold the election; and

(b) any other election required by law to be held on general election day in an odd-numbered year.

I think the most reasonable reading of the law is that the issue must be put on the ballot for the next primary or general election for the unit of government to which the ballot measure applies. That unit is the county, which by law holds its elections for officers in even-numbered years.

My recommendation to Flathead’s county commissioners? Put the issue on the November, 2018, general election ballot. Don’t hold a rump election four months from now. If the initiative’s supporters disagree, they can exercise their right to challenge the decision in court.

I take no position on the zoning initiative. I did not sign the petition, as I dislike making law by initiative. But now that the initiative has qualified for the ballot, on the ballot it should be placed to keep faith with the people who signed the petitions.

Corey Stapleton and the phantom fraudsters of the ballot box

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton continues to chase the chimera of voter fraud. According to an AP report in the Beacon, appearing before the State Administration and Veterans Affairs interim committee, last Thursday, Stapleton claimed that “…more than 360 illegal ballots were cast, but not counted, during the special congressional election in May.”

Stapleton acknowledged that no one in Montana has ever been convicted of voter fraud, but he suggested it routinely happens and urged county elections officials to take fraud allegations more seriously.

“I’m saying we have a system that can be improved,” Stapleton said in an interview, adding that reports over fraud are too casually dismissed and “glossed over” by county elections clerks.

This is what Kierkegaard might have called faith in the face of reason. Stapleton has no proof of widespread voter fraud. Nor is there an absence of fact that counters his belief. Instead, there is a considerable body of fact that refutes his belief — a body of fact he rejects because he’s convinced that fraud exists, but is either being covered up and/or ignored by county elections administrators. He has no proof of that, either. He’s singled out Missoula County, perhaps, suggested the Missoulian in a scathing editorial, because Missoula is a Democratic county.

Stapleton needs to climb down off his high horse before his butt gets bucked into the road apples. Public policy must be based on fact, not on the absence of fact, and certainly not in the presence of facts that argue against a policy. In particular, he must think better of his fellow Montanans and face the fact that virtually all mistakes by voters result from inadvertence and misfortune, not criminal intent, a point made by the Missoulian:

…no system will ever be entirely free from human error, including the “grand experiment” in American government called democracy. We can, however, take steps to reduce error as much as possible, and that means maintaining the utmost transparency and accountability. It may also mean making careful, thoughtful changes from time to time.

In the meantime, as part of a fact based approach to elections, I recommend that Stapleton tune out Kris Kobach, President Trump’s principal voter fraud witch hunter, and tune in Lorraine C. Minnite by reading her carefully researched book, The Myth of Voter Fraud.