A bill sponsored by Montana Representative Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman) to nix the state’s same-day voter registration system passed the House State Administration Committee on party lines Friday, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against.
Another bill sponsored by Washburn which would require a Montana-issued ID card to vote, was tabled in the committee after three Republicans voted with Democrats.
The same-day voter registration closure bill moves the final day to register to the Friday before Election Day. The bill drew long lines of opposition during its public hearing last week, compared with two people speaking in favor of it.
“This is obviously an issue that pretty much no matter how you vote you’re gonna make somebody upset,” Representative Liz Bangerter (R-Helena) said Friday. She said the emails she has received about the bill have been pretty much split down the middle. She says this bill is not about addressing voter fraud (the state has no documented cases of voter fraud), but rather easing up a hectic workload for election administrators on election day.
The last few Presidential elections in Montana have seen voters standing in line for hours at polling places. Thousands of those people statewide need to register at the same time. Supporters of dropping same-day registration say taking that service out of the process would shorten those lines and free up election officials to work on getting people into the voting booth more quickly.
“The beauty of Friday is that a Clerk and Recorder can use their whole staff that day, till midnight if it takes to get people registered.
“I believe strongly that voting is a right and with all rights come responsibilities,” Bangerter said. “Sometimes those responsibilities include making sure that you are registered to vote in a timely manner.”
Democrats said voters just make mistakes sometimes, showing up on election day only to realize they hadn’t registered at their new address after a recent move.
“The long lines and the shortage of ballots are a resource problem, not a voter problem,” said Representative Franke Wilmer (D-Bozeman). “I think it’s a good thing for our democracy to see so many people turn out in higher numbers than ever before.”
Wilmer said if resources are a problem, then election offices need more employees.
The bill, HB30, now moves to the floor of the Montana House of Representatives.