House Committee approves disputed referendums

The House State Administration Committee

The House State Administration Committee

The House State Administration Committee has voted to move forward two referendum bills which caused a Democratic uproar recently in the Senate.

The two measures each passed the committee on party-line 12 to 7 votes. The first, SB405, close same-day voter registration in the state. The other, SB408, would put in place a top-two primary system. Being referendum bills, if they pass both legislative chambers with a simple majority, they would each be put before a general public vote in 2014. As such, the bills would bypass a potential veto of Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

Using referendums has become a strategy of Republicans in the legislature the past two sessions. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office says there are still 10 potential referendum bills alive in 2013 Session. Enough so, Senate Democrats attempted to employ a rarely-used parliamentary procedure to kill the bills. When Republican leadership ignored Democratic motions to use that procedure, the minority party rose to their feet, shouted and pounded their desks. The GOP-controlled Senate Rules Committee voted to say Republicans did not do anything wrong in the events, and that the votes taken during the tumult did in fact count.

Much of the testimony and debate in the State Administration Committee reflected earlier debates on standard, non-referendum bills which were very similar. On the idea of removing same-day voter registration, opponents argue it disenfranchises citizens who show up on Election Day unregistered. The bill would move the registration deadline to the Friday before Election Day and supporters call that a reasonable shift in order to shrink wait-times for voters and help over-burden election workers.

Many believe same-day voter registration tends to benefit Democratic candidates and issues as some left-leaning constituencies like college students, the poor, and Native Americans are more likely to not be properly registered when they show up to vote.

The bill to create a top-two primary would change the state’s primary election system to one type of ballot, rather than citizens receiving a Republican and Democratic primary and having to choose one to vote. The top-two candidates in each race would move forward to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Those in favor say it would free independent-minded Montanans from having to vote for one party in the primaries. Opponents say third-party candidates would get shut out of general elections.

Libertarian candidates have played a ‘spoiler’ role in several recent statewide elections, commonly seen to draw votes away from Republican candidates.

The two referendum bills now move to the House floor for debate.

House committee passes contentious bill banning same day voter registration


Representative Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman)

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.

Winchester 1873 pitched as ‘State Historical Rifle’

The Winchester Model 1873. Photo Courtesy Wikipedia via

The Winchester Model 1873. Photo Courtesy Wikipedia via

Representative Ed Greef (R-Florence) is asking the 2013 Legislature to establish a state historical rifle, the Winchester Model 1873, often called “The Gun that Won the West.”

Greef called his HB 215 a chance for the state to recognize “the rifle that played a very prominent role in the early years of developing from the lawless frontier land of the early 1870s to statehood in 1889.”

The House State Administration Committee heard the bill Thursday.

Vic Reiman of the Montana Historical Society said the rifle was immensely popular due to being one of the first widespread lever-action ‘repeater rifles’ that could hold multiple shells.

“There were interesting rifles before this one,” Greef said, but added that the mass-produced ‘repeating’ 1873 changed history. “(It) proved an obvious advantage, especially in the early years when the other guy used a single-shot type rifle.”

Clancy resident Mac Minard spoke in favor of the designation, saying “almost as iconic as the horse on the plains is the rifle that was in the scabbard and that is the 1873 Winchester rifle.”

The bill had no opponents during its Thursday hearing.