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Sergeant At Arms Clears Committee Hearing Room Over Mail In Ballot Bill

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A Helena woman, Carol Mackin, was escorted out of the State House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Thursday afternoon, after failure to heed the chairman’s warning that she had spoken too long at the podium.

The ejection, during which time Chairman Alan Doane also cleared the room of all but committee members, brought an end to testimony both for and against SB 305, that would allow counties the option of running the special House election on May 25 entirely with mail-in ballots. At the time of Mackin’s ejection, over 30 other people were waiting in the hallway outside the hearing room, many of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify both for and against the bill.

Moments earlier, Ellie Hill Smith of Missoula made an impassioned plea to the chair to make special provision for more people to testify.

“The Sergeant At Arms just told me there are 30 more people in the hallway that are waiting to testify on this bill,” Hill Smith said. “You heard from Gary McDonald, the Commissioner from Roosevelt County, who traveled over 400 miles to be here today. With all respect to our chair, we have not set this hearing with the intent to offer a reasonable offer to hear from people on what this bill would mean to their counties.”

Chairman Doane held a vote, in which the Republican majority ruled that testimony would be limited to the names and hometowns of the remaining witnesses, when Carol Mackin began to address the committee, and was escorted out by the Sergeant At Arms, who also cleared the room of spectators.

Counties have said that a mail-in ballot will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, while Secretary of State Corey Stapleton contends that a mail-in only ballot might affect the integrity of a traditional polling place election. He said citizens can always request a mail-in ballot, if they so choose.

The House committee did not vote on the bill on Thursday, however the Montana Senate has already voted in favor of the bill.

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