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Secretary of State drops vote-by-mail bill

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HELENA — Because of the lack of support, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch is dropping her bill to require nearly all Montana elections to be conducted by mail.

McCulloch said Monday she asked Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, to pull the bill, which had been scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday before the House State Administration Committee. As secretary of state, McCulloch is the state’s chief election official.

“In polling Democrats and Republicans, I couldn’t see that there was enough support for the bill,” McCulloch said. “I’m a real believer that you shouldn’t waste a Legislature’s time and money if a bill is not going anywhere.”

She said lawmakers had a variety of reasons for not favoring the bill, “some good and some not so good.”

Tribal groups also had opposed the bill, McCulloch said.

“We haven’t worked out the bugs enough to get them on board,” said McCulloch, a Democrat.

This will be the last regular legislative session in which McCulloch is secretary of state. She has been secretary of state since January 2009 and will leave office in January 2017. She previously served in the state House.

McCulloch’s confident that Montana will eventually pass all-mail voting, but added: “We just won’t get it when I’m here.”

More and more Montanans are voting by mail through absentee ballots. In the November 2014 general election, 60 percent of Montana voters cast absentee ballots, she said.

“Since we’re a rural state and getting to the polls is difficult and getting the number of election judges is difficult, I think it will come, for the same reasons that Washington, Oregon and Colorado did it,” McCulloch said.

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