Gazette opinion: Keep voter registration open on Election Day

2013-04-03T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Keep voter registration open on Election Day The Billings Gazette
April 03, 2013 12:10 am

For the past seven years, thousands of Montanans have exercised their lawful right to vote by registering – or re-registering – and casting a ballot on Election Day.

Montana is one of eight states – along with Idaho, Iowa, Maine Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming that offer Election Day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California and Connecticut have enacted Election Day registration, but have not yet implemented it.

This spring, 14 other state legislatures are considering starting Election Day registration, the NCSL says. Only one legislature – the one meeting in Helena – is considering repealing Election Day registration.

House Bill 30 would end voter registration at 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote with Republicans for it and Democrats against. Last week, HB30 was endorsed by a Senate committee, again on a partisan vote.

Our Republican neighbors in Wyoming and Idaho have been using Election Day registration since 1994. Evidently, their experience has been positive. Our eastern neighbor, North Dakota, doesn’t even require voter registration.

States that have used same-day registration as well as North Dakota have higher turnout than the national average. The NCSL reports that turnout runs 10 percent to 17 percent higher than average in these states. That higher level of citizen participation is good for democracy and good for Montana.

In Montana, voters can register on a piece of paper mailed to their county elections office or delivered – by anybody – to the elections office up till 30 days before an election. In the last 30 days, including Election Day, eligible voters can register only in person and only at their county elections office. There is a higher level of security for these “late” registrations in Montana.

It’s also important to understand that many of these “late” or Election Day registrations are actually people who already registered, but moved since they registered. Under Montana law, the voter has to be registered at his correct address to vote at his new polling place.

In the November 2012 election in Yellowstone County, 316 of the 800 Election Day registrants were people who just needed to change their address. Under state law, they had to go through the registration procedure and have their new address entered immediately into the statewide voter database. Some of these voters thought they had already changed their addresses. Other voters in the Election Day registration line thought they had already registered when they got a Montana driver’s license, but there was no record with the elections department. HB30 would have disenfranchised all those voters.

We ask Montana’s state senators and Gov. Steve Bullock to consider those Election Day voters, protect their right to vote and reject HB30.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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