Hindering the Right to Vote

The Nov. 4, ballot for Montana will contain a legislatively-referred state statute titled Montana Late Voter Registration Revision Measure, otherwise known as LR-126. The measure, upon voter approval, would change the voter registration deadline from the time polls closing on Election Day to 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.

 

The proposed measure has faced intense opposition. With regard to the Montana Senate and House of Representatives, all those who opposed placing the measure on the ballot were Democrats, with a mere three Republicans in opposition. Meanwhile, every proponent of placing the measure on the ballot was a Republican. From these statistics alone, provided by Ballotpedia, it is very clear that the proposed measure is extremely partisan.

 

Election Day voter registration, also known as same-day voter registration, was introduced in Montana in the 2006 elections and has since allowed over 28 thousand voters to register on Election Day, according to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who opposes the measure. Same-day voter registration helps voters still be able to vote in the case of registration errors, out-of-date registration information, or simply not being able to register to vote at any other time besides Election Day. According to Montana Women Vote’s Sarah Howell, Election Day registration is “particularly important for seniors, veterans who have served out of state, people who live in rural Montana, low-income folks and others.” It is a safeguard that ensures that those who are eligible to vote retain the ability to vote in the case of potential conflicts.

 

LR-126 wasn’t even written by any Montana legislators. It was written and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national group that promotes its agenda by introducing bills into individual state legislatures. According to Montana State Rep. Tom Woods (D-64), “[ALEC] has determined that it is to their advantage to end same-day voter registration. It’s partisan politics. It’s allowing an out-of-state group to tell us how to run our state. It’s wrong.” It is very troubling to think that an out-of-state political group would be interested in suppressing Montanans’ ability to vote, yet that seems to be the case.

 

Montana has a great reputation for its elections system. The process is typically viewed as being easy and accessible to all eligible voters. At MSU there are even  people who spend days on the Mall trying to get more eligible voters to register by handing out registration paperwork. They even allow passersby to return completed paperwork to them, all for the cause of getting more Montanans to the polls. However, LR-126 would only hamper the registration and voting process by making it less convenient for voters to register. One has to wonder how many of those 28,000 Montanans who have used same-day registration since it was introduced in Montana would not have voted if there wasn’t same-day registration.

 

Many of the arguments for LR-126 are inaccurate or altogether inappropriate. The most inaccurate of all is the fact that the actual measure itself claims to be aimed at “ensuring compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)” while numerous individuals and organizations including the Montana Public Employees Association and the Montana Human Rights Network have pointed out that none of the stipulations in LR-126 are required by the NVRA. Furthermore, Montana State Rep. Champ Edmunds, a proponent of the measure, claimed that same-day registration is “very burdensome on the clerk and recorder’s office, and in addition to that, it turns people away at the polls.” But why should it matter if the process is “burdensome” on clerks and recorders? Isn’t that why they are paid employees? The argument that the inconvenience of the process for a few workers is sufficient cause for eliminating same-day registration, which many Montanan voters, including students, clearly make use of, puts more emphasis on the comfort of a few paid employees than the Constitutional right of thousands of citizens. When it comes to the elections process, the main concern of the State should be the accessibility of the polls, not the convenience of a few paid workers.

 

LR-126 will be enacted if it receives a majority vote of approval on Nov. 4. We must ensure that it does not. As Governor Steve Bullock (D) said regarding LR-126, “We should be doing everything we can to make sure that every Montanan can vote — not doing everything we can to prevent them from voting.” Voting is a Constitutional right that should never be hindered for those eligible to vote in a democracy. But LR-126 aims to do just that.