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Voter Rights Debated in Helena

January 19, 2009

Helena, MT – As civil rights are honored with Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Montana voter rights are being examined at the state legislature. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and county election officials, have pointed out a shortage of election judges at polling places, and on various counting and election boards, so a possible solution has been placed on the table.

Montana Conservation Voters Executive Director Theresa Keaveny says it's an innovative idea where Montana students would be tapped to fill those roles.

"It would create more opportunities for young election judges ages between the ages of 16 and 18, helping alleviate the shortage of election judges."

Getting students involved would also get them interested in the voting system, according to Keaveny, as well as expand the pool of election officials. Amendments to the proposal would address early concerns about young election judges.

A second voting proposal being considered would roll back the right to register and vote on Election Day, based on concerns about voter fraud.

Keaveny claims those concerns are unfounded. An audit found not a single instance of fraud in 2006, and no fraud complaints for 2008, and she credits Election Day registration as part of the reason the state's voter turnout rate was so high last year.

"In 2008, that meant over 10,000 new voters who registered and voted in the primary and general elections, and that helped contribute to Montana’s excellent voter turnout of 74 percent."

Keaveny notes that, so far, not a single person has testified in favor of removing Election Day registration.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT