The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


22 February 2013

Steve Lavin’s voting rights act for non-resident property owners


Update. As I expected, tabled in committee. If Rep. Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell) gets his way, owners of property in, say, Troy, but who live in, say, Ekalaka, will be able to vote and run for office in municipal elections in Montana even though they are not residents of the municipalities in which they’re voting.

Even more startling, Lavin’s bill, HB-486, can be construed as giving the out-of-state corporate owners of property in a Montana municipality a vote in that municipality’s elections. Walmart’s bigwigs in Arkansas might be able to vote in Kalispell’s city council election by mail ballot:

NEW SECTION. Section 2. Provision for vote by corporate property owner. (1) Subject to subsection (2), if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election as provided in [section 1].

(2) The individual who is designated to vote by the entity is subject to the provisions of [section 1] and shall also provide to the election administrator documentation of the entity's registration with the secretary of state under 35-1-217 and proof of the individual's designation to vote on behalf of the entity.

Lavin’s bill does not require the property owners to be white Christian men, but amendments to that effect are always possible, given potential unconstitutionality is not that credible a deterrent to Republican excesses.

HB-486 was heard Thursday, 21 February, by the Montana House’s local government committee. A committee vote could come as early as today, as the 28 February transmittal deadline is not that far off.

HB-486 probably will be tabled in committee, perhaps with embarrassed smiles from Republicans who may secretly agree with Lavin but know better than to vote for so reactionary a bill.

Why Lavin introduced the bill is the question needing answers. Was this his own idea? Or did someone wanting to help govern a town but not live in it approach him for a political favor? And if someone did, who did?