Guest opinion: 30-day registration cutoff would keep many Montanans from voting

2013-03-13T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: 30-day registration cutoff would keep many Montanans from votingBy DUSTIN MONROE The Billings Gazette
March 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Western Native Voice has watched House Bill 30, short title "An Act Revising the Close of Late Voter Registration" with growing alarm.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Ted Washburn of Bozeman, purports to be a solution to supposed problems in Montana's elections. The main part of the bill will be to close and halt regular voter registration for 30 days prior to an election. However, no information is presented indicating why this is a good idea or even suggesting there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Rather, the regular voter registration process is to be closed arbitrarily 30 days before Election Day. Given the broad use of the voter registration in the period directly preceding elections by a broad array of Montana citizens, the question certainly comes to mind of why would anyone want to change it when it works so well?

From the point of view of Western Native Voice, changing the voter registration period from its current form is bad public policy. Simply put, having an open period of voter registration in the run up to an election enables citizens to better exercise their rights. This is a practical and significant benefit of the longer voter registration period in of itself. Moreover, for Native American voters in Montana, many of whom already have to contend with other obstacles in casting their vote, the longer voter registration period is particularly beneficial because of the flexibility it offers.

Historically, Native Americans have faced discrimination in Montana, including discrimination that interfered with the exercise of their electoral rights. On top of this situation, many Native Americans live in communities remote from the polling place, usually the county seat. Having voter registration open in the period before Election Day allows someone to both register and then vote at the same time. For someone trying to raise a family or work full-time, not to mention both, this can be an important and possibly an invaluable option in attempting to fulfill your duty as a citizen.

Moreover, Western Native Voice believes that government should enable the citizen, not impose regulations that limit the ability to cast a vote. As it is now stands, the voter registration period benefits voters, both Native American as well as others, through making it more flexible to register and vote. This encourages the participation of more citizens in our civil society for which, given trends to the contrary in recent American history, one would think the government would be thankful.

House Bill 30 is plainly designed to limit the right to vote. Montanans need to let their representatives and senators know that they believe this bill is bad for our state since it curtails the ability of a citizen to exercise their right to vote. In light of the benefits that the current voter registration period creates for all citizens, it is sheer folly to consider changing it. It works -- and works well -- why "fix" it?


Dustin Monroe of Billings is executive director for Western Native Voice and a member of the Assiniboine Tribe. HB30 passed the House on a 60-38 vote and is now in Senate State Administration Committee.


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