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Lawmakers Support Majority Vote Initiative

A legislative interim committee Thursday, Jan. 4, lent overwhelming support to a proposed ballot initiative that, if passed by voters in 2024, would require most Montana elections to be decided by a majority of the vote.

The State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted 9-1 in favor of Ballot Issue 13. This means signature-gathering sheets for the initiative will note the committee’s support for the proposal.

Backers of the ballot initiative say requiring a majority of the vote to win an election — as opposed to a plurality, the lesser threshold required under Montana’s current system — would create a more responsive and collaborative government.

“Our growing coalition believes strongly that it is … important philosophically that the person who represents a group of constituents enjoys the support of the majority of people,” former GOP state Sen. Frank Garner, one of the initiative’s backers, told the committee Thursday. “We think that’s important for a number of reasons, which also include that it tends to provide for the opportunity for more collaboration, more inclusive representation for that group of people, and we think that is an important value in good government.”

He added that he believes requiring candidates to capture the support of a majority of voters will diminish the influence of interest groups in close elections.

The initiative would apply to Montana’s constitutionally defined offices, including the governorship, most executive branch positions, and state and federal legislative seats. The text of the initiative leaves some room for interpretation, directing legislators to prescribe what happens if no one candidate receives a majority of the vote. That could mean a series of run-off elections or a so-called instant run-off, a type of ranked-choice voting system similar to what voters recently adopted in Alaska.

Rob Cook, another former Republican lawmaker and initiative sponsor, told committee members Thursday that there are plenty of examples of majority-vote elections. Legislative leadership elections are decided by a majority vote, he said, as are elections for statewide leadership positions of the Montana Republican Party.

The group running the initiative, Montanans for Election Reform, consists of Cook, Garner and several other former officials and activists who generally occupied the center lanes of their parties. Cook and Garner in particular were prominent members of the coalition of comparative moderate Republicans usually called the Solutions Caucus. One of the group’s board members is former state Sen. Tom Jacobsen, a centrist Democrat.

“We’re concerned about the increasing divisiveness in our politics,” Jacobsen told lawmakers Thursday. “We can change the structure of how we elect people to better ensure that elected officials are accountable to a majority of their constituents.”

State Sen. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, was the only committee member who voted not to support the initiative. She said she felt the current system works adequately.

“I’m not going to say that we’re treating our Constitution like a science project, but it does feel a little bit like it here,” she said during Thursday’s meeting.

Ballot Issue 13 has already received legal approval from Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

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