Whether we like it or not, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of our ordinary freedoms as Americans and Montanans are being restricted, for the good of our neighbors and the community as a whole. This is not unprecedented. I posted an image of the Richland County order restricting freedoms during the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. (See Richland County: 1918 & 2020 Diseases) In Montana today, the current restrictions are no more severe than they were in 1918. (See Montana Governor's 10-Page Stay Home Order and Exceptions (3-26-2020))
But there are essential things that must go on.
Montana is a republic. Essential to a free republic is the continuation of free elections. Pandemic or no pandemic, somehow we must maintain our free republic by holding the primary election regularly scheduled for June this year.
Under Montana’s election statutes, local government has standing authority to choose an option of mail balloting for certain elections, but not all elections. That option generally does not exist for the regular primary election.
Not to fear. Your local Election Administrator, Stephanie Verhasselt, and your Board of County Commissioners, have been on this job for some time. They saw this issue coming and began early to lead in the maintenance of our free republic.
Verhasselt worked with a variety of other offices in the state toward emergency authority from the Governor that was needed to allow an exceptional method of voting. Then she caused a resolution to be prepared for the Board of County Commissioners to activate the emergency option.
The Board of County Commissioners, after proper legal notice of the item of business by agenda, promptly took up the matter and have adopted an authorizing resolution that will let you vote without congregating dangerously at polling places.
The Richland County Courthouse is on lock-down, but essential work of government goes on, and our free republic is being preserved locally in a variety of ways that perhaps go unnoticed. This action to preserve our right to vote is just one of them.
Below is Resolution 2020-010, “A resolution providing that the 2020 primary election may be conducted by mail ballot and expanded early voting with COVID-19 precautions.”
The Governor of Montana today (March 26, 2020) issued an order requiring Montanans to stay at home — generally.
The order has many exceptions. The order is 10 pages.
The directive is effective at 12:01 a.m. on March 28, 2020 through April 10, 2020
The major headings in the order are:
I. Stay at Home; Social Distancing Requirements; and Essential Businesses and Operations
1. Stay at home or place of residence.
2. Non-essential business and operations to cease.
3. Prohibited activities.
4. Prohibited and permitted travel.
5. Leaving your home for essential activities is permitted.
6. Health Care and Public Health Operations.
7. Human Services Operations.
8. Essential Infrastructure.
9. Governmental Functions.
10. Businesses covered by this Directive.
11. Essential Businesses and Operations.
12. Social Distancing Requirements for Essential Businesses and Operations.
13. Minimum Basic Operations.
14. Essential Travel.
15. Intent of this Directive.
II. Directive Is Public Health Order and Enforceable By County Attorney
III. Local Public Health Agencies to Assist in Administration of this Public Health Order
IV. Less-Restrictive Local Ordinances Preempted
The order fails to recognize as necessary such work as priests and pastors visiting the sick or dying for Confession, Absolution, Extreme Unction, Last Rites, or Sacrament of the Altar. Along those lines, the order no doubt has other blind spots that would come to light with further reflection and experience.
When we were kids, we heard about the epidemic of 1918. My uncle was an infant and died from it. At Stordahl Cemetery, his head stone has a single date. He did not survive to be a year old. My Dad was deathly sick from it, having been born in June 1918, but survived.
Mom and Dad would tell us about the symptoms of Spanish Influenza, measures taken against it, and how widespread it became. For us kids, it was an distant world, too huge and too awful to comprehend.
Today, with conavirus diease (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, so many things are happening so fast that it is difficult to keep up. There is so much contradictory information. Knowing whom to trust is a problem.
For those of us living in Richland County, Montana, Order No. 2 of the Richland County Council of Defense, October 15, 1918 is an interesting piece of history. The text, preserved by the Montana State Historical Society, reads as follows:
Richland County Council of Defense