Montana Politics Ryan Zinke Special Election

The special election, Part I

Written by Pete Talbot
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(This is more of a nuts-and-bolts post on how the special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke is evolving. Part II will focus on the Republican Convention and Part III will be about the Democrats.)

It’s been one delay after another, which I’m sure is driving the nominating convention organizers crazy. Since Zinke’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior has been postponed, most likely until next week, the weekend of February 11-12 would probably be the earliest the conventions could be held.

Apparently, questions surrounding the appointment of Gov. Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry to Secretary of Energy are what’s causing the delay. Both Zinke and Perry were slated for confirmation on Tuesday, Jan. 24, until it was called off the night before by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

As there will be no primary election, it’s these nominating conventions — Republican, Democratic and Libertarian — where the candidates for the special election are chosen. Party leadership and members from county central committees will be the ones casting votes at these conventions. (I’m not really sure how the Libertarians go about this — do they even have county central committees? I see nothing about a convention on their website or Facebook page.)

I’ve heard that voting delegates in the two major parties are already getting calls from candidates asking them for their support at the conventions, and factions in both the Democratic and Republican Parties are scrambling to fill any open spots at county central committees. For example, if a vice-chair slot is open in, say, Fallon County, it might suddenly be filled by someone supporting a specific candidate on either of the Republican or Democratic slates.

After the conventions, it’s anyone’s guess how many votes will be cast in the special election. I figure about 400,000. That’s the midpoint between the number of votes cast in the 2016 primary (slightly less than 300,000) and the 2016 general (slightly more than 500,000).

How the election is conducted could also have a bearing on turnout. Will it be mail-in or polling places or both? There is a bill before the 2017 legislature to make the election mail-in only. That would make county election administrators happy, especially in the smaller population counties, because setting up polling places is time consuming and expensive, and many of the county election offices are already strapped for cash. It’s a short time frame, though, to get the bill through the legislature in time for printing and mailing before the election.

It looks like the special election will be held in mid-May, which isn’t that far off, especially considering the never-ending 2016 election cycle we just had. So, hold on to your hats. Things are about to get intense.

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

7 Comments

  • It would make sense to me for the special election to be combined with the school board elections if possible. That would be more convenient for voters, and would boost the turnout for the school elections. Unless all hell is breaking loose in Washington, D.C, and Montana’s voters are upset that hell’s breaking loose, I expect a low turnout.

    Speaking for myself, I want the option of voting in person at my usual polling place. If I’m condemned to a mail ballot, I’ll deliver it in person to the elections department.

    • It would certainly make sense to hold school board elections and the special election at the same time. Not only would it be convenient and boost school board election turnout, it would save taxpayer dollars. Probably too radical an idea to happen, though.

      I’m predicting that all hell will break loose in D.C. and voter turnout will be higher than expected.

  • I think this will be kind of a ho-hum election.

    With the big GOP majority in the House, and this race making no difference, both the GOP and Dem donors will be sitting on their wallets.

    I have to give the GOP candidate, whoever it may be, a slight edge, because The Donald won here big, and most of us WANT and revel in all hell breaking loose in DC.

    • That’s one perspective, Eric, but whoever wins the special election will be well poised for the 2018 midterm. And with “all hell breaking loose in DC,” there could be some big changes in the makeup of Congress.

      • 2018 is poised to be a bad year for the Dems nationally. The GOP has 8 seats to defend, while the Dems have 23 to defend – 25 if you count the two independents who caucus with them. Several of the Dems are coming from States that The Donald won easily.

        That’s why I’m thinking the Dems nationally won’t have a lot of interest in this race for a House Seat that is pretty much a seat-filler until 2018.

        I wish I was still on the Central Committee here and hear the discussions as far as picking a candidate.

        Personally I’d give my vote for my friend Ken Miller, but I’m thinking Greg Gianforte is the front-runner.

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