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MT Measure Would Halt Same-Day Voter Registration

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Monday, January 25, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. -- A bill in the Montana Legislature could build barriers to voting, opponents of the measure contended.

House Bill 176 would end same-day voter registration and close late, in-person registration by 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before election day.

Ruthie Barbour, issue advocacy organizer at Forward Montana, said it creates a transportation challenge, especially for Indigenous communities who live far from their local elections office.

"That would be driving to that county elections office twice," Barbour observed. "And then, of course, many of us work full time, various jobs. So many full-time students, businesspeople, ranchers and parents; single-parents especially."

Same-day voter registration was approved in 2005 and about 60,000 Montanans utilized it between 2006 and 2018. Statistics on its usage in 2020 have not yet been released.

Supporters of the bill claimed it will cut down on voter fraud and long lines on election day.

Barbour pointed out there is no evidence of voter fraud in the state in the past two decades.

She recognized county election officials have stressful jobs, but doesn't believe this is the right fix.

"To limit somebody's right to vote because of an administration issue?" Barbour protested. "Maybe there's some other way we can be solving that besides just ending these services that so many people use."

A public hearing for HB 176 was held last week and many commenters noted a legislative referendum from 2014 nearly identical to this bill.

Barbour pointed out 57% of Montanans voted that measure down.

"It's frustrating for us to see this come up again in the Legislature as something that Montanans have already spoken about and have already decided," Barbour commented.

The House State Administration Committee will vote on the bill Tuesday.

Disclosure: Forward Montana contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Environment, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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