2013 MT Legislature

Apr 17, 2013 2:12 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

Same-day voter registration debated in Montana Legislature

HELENA - The Montana House of Representatives debated and passed a referendum on Tuesday which would eliminate same day voter registration.

Senate Bill 405 lets voters decide if they want people lining up on election day and registering to vote.

Republicans say same day voter registration is a bad idea, saying it contributes to long lines, chaos at the polls, and plus they say voters should be more organized and get their paperwork filed early.

"We are looking at increasing the integrity of the vote because we are trying to get all the people registered on the last Friday before election. We are trying to concentrate on the large crowds that come out. Some times it takes four to six hours to try and get them registered and trying to get them into vote," said Rep. Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman).

Democrats argue by getting rid of same day voter registration, it suppresses the voice of Montanans who want to engage in democracy. They say many people think they are registered, show up to vote and find out their paperwork didn't go through, so they need an option.

"Despite the fact that there may be a little bit more work for our county clerks when it comes to election day, we still have a right to vote. Despite the fact that there might be long lines sometimes, we still have a right to vote," countered Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula).

But this fight stems back to something bigger, a political disagreement about how this bill got to the House floor.

Senator Alan Olson had his bill drafted at the last minute, and Democrats say the hearing was scheduled without proper notice. Then when it came to the Senate floor for a final vote, Democrats erupted pounding on their desks, yelling and trying to stall the vote.

So when the bill came it over to the House of Representatives, the majority spoke and now voters will decide whether or not same day voter registration is a good idea.

Because this bill is a referendum it does not need Governor Steve Bullock's signature. If it passes one more vote in the House it will appear on the primary ballot in the Spring election of 2014.