March 11, 2011
CONTACT INFORMATION: Terri McCoy, (406) 444-2807
McCulloch Opposes Measure That Would Require Runoff Election Process; Highlights the Bill’s Multimillion-Dollar Price Tag
HELENA – Secretary of State Linda McCulloch on Friday testified against a proposal that would require expensive, complicated and unnecessary changes to Montana’s elections process in order to determine the winner of a general election. McCulloch said SB 325 would require a runoff elections process, which will introduce administrative burdens, decrease voter turnout and cost taxpayers between $2 and $5 million.
“This bill turns Montana’s simple, fair and accurate elections process into a complicated and questionable mess,” McCulloch told the Senate State Administration Committee. “It leaves so many questions unanswered, but what we do know is that it will cause voter confusion and cost taxpayers a lot of money.”
SB 325 calls for amending the Montana Constitution to require a candidate to receive more than half the votes cast in a general election in order to be elected. This varies from the current elections process, where a candidate must receive more votes than any other candidate in order to be elected.
Majority-rule elections could require runoff elections, which must be held either through a separate, special election or through ranked-choice voting on the ballot. Ranked-choice voting is commonly referred to as “instant runoff voting,” where a voter ranks each candidate on the ballot according to preference.
McCulloch testified that the vendor who supplies the state’s certified vote-tabulating equipment to counties cannot update or reprogram the equipment to process instant runoff ballots, which means an expensive special election would need to be held, or every ballot in the state would need to be counted by hand.
“Just because I put a piece of paper in my microwave at home, doesn’t mean my microwave will fax that paper to my office,” McCulloch said. “You cannot choose to ignore costs or implementation problems just because you want your bill to pass.”
Purchasing equipment compatible with processing instant runoff elections could cost taxpayers more than $5 million, while a statewide special election could cost roughly $2 million. Additional costs for implementing the bill would include voter education and the printing of longer ballots.
Nationally, a growing number of cities have tried and rejected instant runoff voting as a costly method of administering elections. The majority of those cities also cite voter confusion and low voter turnout as reasons for rejecting the method.