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Guest opinion: Majority backs bills to restrict voting rights

Guest opinion: Majority backs bills to restrict voting rights

I want to ensure that every eligible voter in my district has the opportunity to vote. House Bill 130 would have set up an all-mail process for voting in Montana. The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Pat Ingraham, at the request of Secretary of State Linda McCullough. It was the result of one and a half years of collaboration with various stakeholders and was endorsed by county election officials, clerks and recorders, AARP, Montana Conservation Voters, Montana League of Rural Voters, Confederate Kootenai Tribes and many other groups. The bill failed in the House on third reading, after 15 Republican representatives went from supporting to opposing the bill overnight. Along the way to its defeat, Republican legislators said HB 130 made it too easy for 'irresponsible' or 'less informed' Montanans to vote, and that the bill somehow diluted the purity of the vote.

Going to an all-mail ballot is controversial and it is perhaps not surprising that it did not pass the House. What is surprising is the way Republicans voted against the bill that would make voting easier while supporting other bills that effectively disenfranchise voters.

One such bill, House Bill 180, rolls back registration to four days before an election. Current law allows people to register up to and on Election Day. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch has said 42,907 Montanans statewide used late registration to vote in the last 30 days of primary and general elections since 2006, and a total of 18,747 Montanans have registered and voted on Election Day. There is no evidence of fraud in Montana as a result of the existing provision and it clearly opens up the process to many people.

Another bill, House Bill 152, will make it more difficult to prove Montana residency for voter registration. This bill was not requested by any particular group, such as the county election officials or clerks and recorders. Only two citizens supported the bill in the committee hearing and a long list of groups of opposed it, including League of Women Voters, AARP and Disability Rights Montana. According to testimony, these bills will make Montana's voting laws the most restrictive in the country.

House Bill 130 was a carefully crafted initiative that sought to make sure all eligible Montanans had the opportunity to vote. The bills that are now passing have the opposite effect.

My constituents include students, young families, and renters who tend to move more frequently. Late registration is a clear benefit, and I will oppose any efforts to make registration and voting more difficult. We all have the right to vote; it is not a luxury for a select few, and thankfully, it is not subject to someone's arbitrary assessment of who is (or is not) responsible or informed.

State Rep. Mary McNally, D-Billings, represents House District 49.

State Rep. Mary McNally, D-Billings, represents House District 49.

 

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