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.

Stakeholders discuss Medicaid Expansion at annual Healthcare Forum

Stakeholders across the healthcare industry gathered in Helena today to discuss big changes coming in the next year.

Medicaid Expansion dominated the conversation at this healthcare forum conference.

That expansion is an option states have to comply with provisions in the Federal Affordable Care Act.

It still would have to be approved by a Republican-dominated legislature.

The Montana Healthcare Forum is an annual event. It’s organized and sponsored by stakeholders ranging from insurance companies to hospitals, nonprofits and universities.

Montana AARP Advocacy Director Claudia Clifford was on the organizing committee. She said there was a feeling of particular importance this year.

“First of all, it’s right before a legislative session,” she said, “that always makes things feel more urgent but this is a big deal that we’re gonna address probably providing healthcare for half of our uninsured population.”

Or, at least that’s what’s on the table for state legislators—Medicaid Expansion. If the state provides $5 million in what’s being called administrative costs, the federal government will provide the rest of the money to cover about 80 thousand new Montanans under Medicaid.

Economist Sarah Wilhelm works as Research Director for the nonprofit Montana Budget and Policy Center. She says recent research from the University of Montana shows expansion to be a good deal for the state.

“The numbers are really striking because what we see is that medicaid expansion could actually pay for itself,” she said.

Wilhelm says a large influx of federal dollars could create new jobs and higher incomes. This would lead to increased tax revenues that would offset the money paid by the state over a nine year time frame.

“It’s a historic moment,” said Helena Democratic Senator Mary Caferro. “It’s an opportunity to finally do something about the uninsured issue.”

She says the information presented at the healthcare forum solidifies her support for expanding Medicaid. She says she believes lawmakers will put their differences aside and approve it.

“Because Legislators recognize that the majority of montanans are not extreme and the majority of Montanans want real solutions to this issue,” Caferro said.

Democrats like Caferro, however, are not in control of the Legislature.

“Federal Dollars isn’t just free money that falls out of a tree, those dollars are coming from us,” said Helena Republican Representative Liz Bangerter.

She presented at the healthcare forum with Democratic Senator Caferro. Bangerter says lawmakers need to think about the stability of those federal funds before expansion.

“I just don’t think we can guarantee that those payments will be at that level for the next nine years no matter whose in the executive office or in congress,” she said, adding she’s not so sure Republican lawmakers will go for it. “If you were to just go up and say Federal Medicaid expansion the caucus would kill it.”

But a uniquely Montana solution, crafted along with the stakeholders at the healthcare forum, she says that may be considered.

The state budget outlined by outgoing Governor Brian Schweitzer calls for passing the expansion.