A voter mobilization campaign sowed confusion and consternation this week in Flathead County while intending to help get out the vote for Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
The campaign was initiated by a partnership of the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund and United Steelworkers Works. Known as the New American Jobs Fund, the partnership mailed valid applications for absentee ballots to an unknown number of registered voters in the region, noting the mailings were not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
On Thursday, Tester spokesman Luke Jackson said the senator’s campaign had nothing to do with the mailings.
Kalispell resident Susan Cahill, her husband and son received the absentee ballot applications Tuesday in mailers paid for by the New American Jobs Fund, according to the envelopes. The mailers encouraged recipients to vote absentee and included a postage-paid envelope addressed to Flathead County Clerk for the completed applications.
“I think it’s going to confuse people,” Cahill said Wednesday.
She was right.
Monica Eisenzimer, the county’s election office manager, said Wednesday that her office had received more than a hundred phone calls over two days from people about the absentee ballot applications received from the New American Jobs Fund.
Some callers had already applied for absentee ballots, she said.
“It scares them and they think they haven’t requested a ballot yet,” Eisenzimer said. “It’s not helping people.”
She said about 60 percent of registered voters in Flathead County vote absentee.
Missoula County’s elections office also has experienced a deluge of inquiries about the absentee ballot mailings.
“We have had contact with over 5,000 of our voters regarding these mailings,” said Dayna Causby, elections administrator, on Thursday morning.
Absentee ballots will be mailed out today in Flathead County, Eisenzimer said. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is noon on November 5. Election day is November 6.
Montana voters will consider races that include Tester vs. Republican challenger Matt Rosendale.
The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund and United Steelworkers Works announced their partnership in August. At the time, they said they would use “cutting-edge tactics to mobilize voters” in support of Democratic senate candidates in four states: Montana, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio.
In a news release, League President Gene Karpinski said, “We don’t have to choose between good jobs and clean air and water, and that’s why conservationists and labor are coming together once again to elect senators who share those values.”
The mailer received by Cahill noted, “Susan, you are someone who cares about your family, the community and our country.” It notes that although “who you vote for is secret” it will become public record whether she votes.
Alyssa Roberts, a spokeswoman for the League of Conservation Voters, said Wednesday the primary focus of the New American Jobs Fund campaigns in the four states is boosting turnout.
“It’s all about getting more people to come out and vote,” Roberts said.
She said the League of Conservation Voters sees Tester as one of the Senate’s strongest supporters of public lands and hopes he’ll be re-elected.
David Parker, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University, said that, generally speaking, higher turnout in Montana tends to favor candidates running as Democrats.
“The effort to bank absentee ballots is just part of a multi-pronged effort to get votes for Dems in the door in whatever way they can,” Parker said.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4407.