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Missoula primary, all-mail election passes City Council after security debate

Both the primary and general election in Missoula will be held by mail only. (Missoula Current file)

The Missoula City Council again on Monday engaged in a debate over the need for a primary election in this year’s municipal races, and how this year’s elections should be held.

Last week, members of a council committee voted to move forward with a primary for three city races in September, including the race for mayor and two city wards. Each of those races has more than two candidates and the primary is intended to narrow the field heading into November.

But on Monday night, the call for the primary and an all-mail election passed on a narrow 6-3 vote. Those opposed contend a primary isn’t needed in Missoula, would cost taxpayers money, and is ripe for election fraud with the all-mail approach.

“I have to voice great concern over this,” said Ward 6 council member Sandra Vasecka. “It would be foolish and frankly untruthful to say there are no election security issues.”

In a mail election, Vasecka said, registered voters automatically receive a ballot, whether they request one or not. In some cases, she said, some of those voters have moved on, and the ballot is mailed to the registered address regardless.

In the last election, she said, there were more than 10,000 ballots counted that were mailed to citizens who hadn’t voted since 2014. That same election, she added, more than 4,000 ballots were missing affirmation envelopes.

“These revelations haven’t had any answer or response as to why they happened,” she said. “It would be irresponsible and naïve to be in favor of all mail-in voting for this election.”

While costs could vary, early estimates suggest that a city-wide primary election by mail will cost $114,000 compared to $146,000 for a polling place election.

The General Election in November will cost $117,000 by mail and $149,000 for polling place. Vasecka, joined by council members Jesse Ramos and John Contos, opposed the primary.

While Vasecka raised concerns over security, other members of the council were quick to dismiss them.

“I think our elections officer and elections office in Missoula do a great job. They follow all the rules, are incredibly conscientious and as a result, get accurate results,” said council member Gwen Jones.

“I don’t like having a federal narrative that some are promoting out there be applied in Missoula. I know there are certain legislators promoting it. It’s ridiculous in my mind.”

Others agreed.

“The voting fraud claims she (Vasecka) cited have been investigated numerous times and found not to be credible,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “It shows there is efficacy in all mail-in elections.”

City Council opts for primary in three Missoula races; will fund mail election