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Votes still being counted for Montana ballot issues

November 7, 2018
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Voters fill out their ballots in Helena, Mont, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. They will decide a full slate of races that include seats for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state legislature and four ballot issues (AP Photo/Matt Volz)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Election officials counted votes late Tuesday for ballot issues on extending the state’s expanded Medicaid program by raising the tobacco tax and on imposing new cleanup standards on mines.

Too many votes were outstanding to determine whether those two citizens’ initiatives had passed or failed. Yellowstone County election officials previously said it could take until Wednesday morning to count all of its votes because the ballot issues are on the second page of the two-page ballot.

The Medicaid measure would raise the state’s tax on a pack of cigarettes to $3.70 and on snuff to at least $3.70 per 1.2-ounce can. The extra money would go to help pay for the wider Medicaid program that covers about 96,000 people and is scheduled to expire next year. It also would flow to other health and veterans programs and into the state’s general fund.

The tobacco industry led a $17 million campaign to defeat the measure, arguing that the tax hike would not pay the state’s entire share of the Medicaid expansion and would create an unfunded mandate of up to $34 million a year.

Supporters say that calculation does not take into account money saved by keeping people off traditional Medicaid or the premiums paid by the enrollees in the expansion program.

Helena voter Alice Elliott said Tuesday that she voted against the tax measure because she thought both sides tried to mislead the public with false ads.

“In a case like that, you vote no,” she said. “I just think we were not fully informed.”

The other citizens’ initiative asked voters to approve increased cleanup standards for new mines in Montana. It would require any new hard-rock mine to submit a plan with clear and convincing evidence that it won’t need the perpetual treatment of polluted water once it ceases operations.

Backers say the measure would prevent mining companies from leaving behind permanent water pollution and saddling the state’s taxpayers with the costs of cleanup.

An industry-led campaign also aimed to defeat that initiative. Five mining companies funneled cash and services to the Montana Mining Association to argue that the measure’s language was vague and would allow environmental groups to sue to block any future developments.

Voters also were asked to decide two legislative referendums.

One would allow only relatives, caregivers and acquaintances to turn in another person’s absentee ballot — a measure that Republican lawmakers said would reduce the possibility of ballot tampering. Get-out-the-vote organizations say it would result in fewer elderly, disabled and minority voters participating.

The other would extend by 10 years a statewide property tax that provides about $20 million annually to the Montana University System.

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