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Montana bill would move city elections to even years



Helena, Montana – Candidates are preparing to run in the 2023 municipal elections in cities around Montana. However, if proposed legislation at the state Legislature is approved, this could be the final time that local elections take place in an odd-numbered year.

R-Billings senator Chris Friedel previously served on the city council. He claims to have heard from many voters who are weary of elections happening so frequently in this state.

“It seems like every year we have something on a ballot, something to be voted on,” he said during a debate on the Senate floor earlier this month. “Our community is tired, and we’re consistently voting on things.”

Senate Bill 420, sponsored by Friedel, would switch the general elections for municipal authorities from taking place in November of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years. It would be applicable to votes for municipal judges, city and town council members, and mayors.

“The reason I only picked out city council and mayor is because it’s the simplest portion of our governance that does get elected that makes sense to be brought into the legislative or the presidential or non-presidential races to be voted on by the public,” Friedel said.

Friedel stated that he was willing to have school trustee elections only in even years, but he left them out of the bill since it made more sense for them to be chosen in May, before the start of the school year, rather than in November.

Bill 420 was approved by the Senate this month with a vote of 30 to 20. It was heard on Tuesday in the House Local Government Committee.

Sen. Chris Pope, a Democrat from Bozeman, testified against the measure during the Senate discussion, saying he was worried about making the ballot more complicated.

“They’re already having problems with something that’s called ‘downballot dropoff,’ so our local elections sometimes aren’t filled out because people just get tired of reading through all of it,” he said.

Friedel told MTN that he didn’t believe that concurrent voting would make city matters less important. He contended that moving to even-year elections will increase voter turnout in municipal elections.

According to its current form, SB 420 would take effect right away and provide elected officials a one-year term extension in 2023 when they are up for reelection. Friedel is putting out a change to put that off so that the elections this year can go as scheduled. He informed MTN that it made sense to give leaders additional time to get ready for the shift.

There are other plans to move election dates besides Bill 420. Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, is the author of House Bill 774, which would shift municipal, school, and other local elections to the traditional primary and general election dates. Hopkins informed MTN that his plan called for votes for both candidates and bonds and levies.

This month, the House approved Bill 774 on a preliminary vote, 62-38. This week, it will be the subject of a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee that will concentrate on any potential financial effects.

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