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Raph Graybill, candidate for Montana attorney general

RAPH GRAYBILL

Automatic voter registration cuts lines and helps democracy. The attorney general can implement it now.

Registering to vote should be easy. It should be easy to update your registration if you move, too. But for too many Montanans, it isn’t.

Many don’t realize it, but the Montana attorney general can do something to help fix both problems.

It’s called automatic voter registration. The idea is simple: every time you update your driver’s license or state ID card at the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), your voter registration is “automatically” updated as well. Everything is taken care of for you by the MVD. All you have to do is show up on election day.

During the last legislative session, the Legislature considered a proposal to do exactly that. It died on a tie vote at the very end of the session.

But the good news is the attorney general, who oversees MVD, doesn’t need a change in the law to implement this simple fix and make voter registration automatic. If I’m elected attorney general in 2020, I’ll do it on day one.

The 2018 general election in Montana highlighted the problem. Registered voters who changed their address had to wait in long lines during the 2018 election just to confirm what the state already knows: They’re Montana voters entitled to participate in our elections. What’s more, every year, thousands of Montanans become eligible to vote but are not registered.

Currently, Montanans have the option of registering to vote when they get a driver’s license or ID card, but it’s not automatic. As a result, many miss out on registration or providing updated information that will save them time at the polls.

By switching to an “opt-out” system, all eligible voters who receive services from MVD are registered by default —requiring no additional action on their part — unless they opt out.

Research nationwide shows that shifting to an “opt-out” system increases registration significantly, and would result in thousands of new voters in Montana. It also reduces the serious problem of lines on election day.

The attorney general has the authority, without waiting for the Legislature, to integrate an “opt-out” voter registration process for all driver’s licenses and state ID cards. The MVD would automatically populate voter registration forms as it already does and transmit them to county clerks for registration, as well as to the secretary of state.

The benefits are clear and immediate. With automatic voter registration, there will be an increase in registered voters. That’s good for democracy. Montanans who move will have their information automatically updated and avoid lines. That’s good for efficiency.

The best part is that we don’t need to wait for the politics and bureaucracy of the Montana Legislature to finally do the right thing. We can do it on day one.

Automatic voter registration is a simple fix to allow more Montanans to express their right to vote. But it takes a change in leadership from the past eight years to get the job done. The current attorney general could make elections better now. He simply chooses not to.

I’m running for attorney general because Montanans want our elected officials to work for us again. Government should make things easier and reduce burdens on democracy, not get in the way.

We want an attorney general who will stand up for us and defend our rights, whether it’s in court or at the ballot box. As your attorney general, I will never settle for anything less.

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Helena attorney Raph Graybill is seeking the Democratic nomination for Montana attorney general in 2020. He is chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.