Starting election season with the basics

Jenny Gessaman

With October right around the corner, the general elections are set to heat up campaign trails once more. Voters, or those who would like to be, need to be aware of the rules and dates.

Fergus County Election Administrator Rana Wichman said the voter registration process is simple. To register, a county resident needs to know their driver license number or the last four digits of their social security number. After they have registered, residents need to bring one form of identification to the polls.

The biggest mistake and myth Wichman sees surrounding the voting process is not what is required to vote, but how a person can vote. Specifically, how a person with an absentee ballot can vote.

“People think if they get an absentee ballot, they don’t have to vote it,” Wichman said. “That’s not true."

Unless they lost their ballot, absentee voters are required to use the ones they requested and were sent.


State issues on the ballot

The following is a rundown of the four initiatives, or petition-proposed changes, that will appear in front of Montanans statewide during the general election. The information summarized here was taken from the Secretary of State’s 2016 Voter Information Pamphlet.

CI-116: Crime victim’s rights

Also known as Marsy’s Law, this is a constitutional amendment that would establish specific rights for the victims of crime.

Supporting arguments claim this initiative raises the rights of crime victims to the same level as the rights of the accused. They say Montana’s constitution does not currently provide this, and list some of the added victim rights as the right to be notified of hearings in their case, and the right to confer with the prosecuting attorney.

Opposing arguments say the amendment is unnecessary and costly, claiming the state already has crime victim protections in place and that enforcement of CI-116 would require additional funds and staffed. They also say the amendment is vaguely worded and sections potentially conflict with the constitutional rights of the accused.

I-177: Trapping on public lands

If passed, this law would make the use of traps and snares for animals illegal on any public lands in the state. There is an exception for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department.

Supporting arguments claim unmarked traps and snares are a danger for recreational users of public lands who are not trappers. They argue the trade is no longer an economic necessity, and cite the inability of traps to distinguish between healthy and sick animals as proof they are a poor wildlife management tool.

Opposing arguments say the law would remove an effective management tool for predators and introduce a greater risk of disease and animal attacks to people. They also point to the lost revenue from trapping licenses, and claim the loss of trapping would be the precursor to the loss of hunting.

I-181: Creating a statewide department to award grants for brain-related work

If passed, this law would create the Montana Biomedical Research Authority to oversee and review grants for research focused on brain diseases and injuries, as well as mental illnesses.

Supporting arguments claim the law would create more jobs in medical and science fields, bringing more of those industries to the state while giving younger generations incentive to stay and work in Montana. They also state the professionals the grants attract would lead to a cut in healthcare costs for the state’s aging and mentally ill.

 Opposing arguments say the $200 million used to establish grants would create a large taxpayer debt without a specified revenue source, sapping other state funding obligations. Opponents say the fund’s location outside of the state treasury would be unconstitutional, and taxpayer money should only be spent on things that create hard assets for taxpayers.

I-182: Medical marijuana revision

If passed, this law would rename the current medical marijuana law, changing the title to the Montana Medical Marijuana Act. It would also revise the current law, making changes such as labeling PTSD a “debilitating medical condition” and removing the limit of three patients for each medical provider.

Supporting arguments claim the patient limit means many needing medical marijuana will have their access blocked by the current law’s logistics. They also point to the initiative’s licensing and unannounced yearly inspection requirements as guarantees of accountability.

Opposing arguments say the law would defeat legislative efforts to reduce abuse of medical marijuana. They say the law is designed to create a corporate “marijuana industry” and that some sections of the law lack definition, paving the way for loopholes and misuse.


Registration and voting deadlines

• Oct. 11: Close of regular voter registration (postmark accepted)

     “The names of these individuals will be on the registers at the different polling places,” Wichman said.

• Oct. 12: Beginning of late registration

     “These people have to vote early,” Wichman explained. “They can’t go to a polling place and vote on Election Day.”

• Oct. 14: Date ballots are mailed to electors on the absentee list

     So far, Wichman expects to mail roughly 2,200 absentee ballots for Fergus County this year.

• Nov. 7: Noon is the deadline for voters to submit an application for an absentee ballot.

• Nov. 8: Federal general election

     Missed registration? Don’t worry, residents can still register and vote on Election Day by going to the Fergus County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.



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