(DAILY MONTNAN) The Republican Legislature debuted Friday with the first of its “electoral integrity” proposals to end voter registration on election day in Montana, which has been on the books since 2005.
Bill sponsor, Florence Republican Sharon Greef, said this was a necessary solution for the future Lines and hours of waiting on election day for the last and previous elections – and something that could ease the burden on the district offices overseeing polling stations.
“One of our biggest problems is trying to hold an election in a decent way that is organized when people are still voting (on polling day),” said Doug Ellis, chief electoral officer (as well as clerk), recorder, Treasurer and Superintendent) in Broadwater County, in support of the action.
However, several opponents of the bill testified Thursday that the solution to the administrative burden at the state election level is not to restrict voting, especially if that means cutting off late registration on Friday before election day, as Greef suggests.
“We don’t have to exit the register in order to vote (on election day), we just have to invest in more open, freer and fairer elections,” said Keaton Sunchild, political director of Western Native Voice, an organization that supports citizen engagement Native to the western United States
Native American residents of Montana are among the many communities that will benefit from same-day registration, according to opponents of the bill. Tribal reservations are huge and there is often a lack of infrastructure. In addition, according to Sunchild, it has become de facto among many indigenous Montaners to vote on election day – and to register if necessary.
Students who frequently change their address, the elderly, the disabled and those in long-term care facilities also rely on late registration, opponents said.
Beth Brenneman, a Montana disability rights attorney, said it was her organization’s job to help people in settings like this register and vote in a timely manner. Registration on election day offers the necessary flexibility for this purpose, she said.
“If you can’t register too late, we can’t help you,” she said.
Greef said she was just trying to make sure voters and poll workers can focus their efforts on election day on everything going smoothly, arguing that voters have a full year to register and that they know a lot about it in public be informed.
“The focus of House Bill 176 is not on encumbrance, nor on disenfranchisement, nor on providing a forum for historical debate,” she said Thursday.
Broadwater County’s official Ellis said he wanted more people to vote, not fewer, and was proud of his county’s record turnout in the last presidential election: 82% of around 5,000 registered voters.
HB 176 has also had the support of Montana’s new Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who on Thursday described it as an attempt to “strengthen the integrity of the elections”. It is one of five nominations that her office is advancing this year, including efforts to legally define “electoral security”.
Virtually every Montana county, whether majority Republican or Democrat, registered at least one voter on election day in 2018, for which full data is available last year.
Ravalli County administrative clerk and recorder Regina Plettenberg, who appeared on Thursday as the representative of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorder, which is neutral in the bill, told the committee that there were 171 people in Ravalli in the last two days of the election 2020 would have registered for voting.
A non-partisan group of lawmakers passed a bill that allowed voting on election day in 2005 and garnered the backing of then-Republican Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, noted Jon Ellingson, who led the Senate majority eleven years ago to take the proposal across the finish line. Montana is one of 20 conditions practice makes this possible.
“Voter turnout has risen to new levels. Partly because voters can register on the same day they vote,” Ellingson said.
But in the years since then, when the look of the legislature changed, lawmakers have tried several times to recall the late election day vote. In 2011, Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed HB180 on a government issue after it had passed smoothly in both legislatures.
Two years later, Republicans passed a vote asking voters to decide the following year if they wanted to postpone the voter registration deadline. However, the resulting measure failed with 57%.
“Montana voters overwhelmingly voted against these restrictions,” said Sam Forstag of the Montana ACLU. “Please give the miners consistency and loyalty to the vote they carried out in 2014.”