On Friday, in a straight party line vote, the House State Administration Committee voted 11-7 in favor of HB30, a bill to eliminate same-day voter registration.
According to Montana Secretary of State, Linda McCulloch, 28,329 people have registered and voted on election days since 2005. These are people who wanted to vote but weren't pre-registered because, according to testimoney before the committe vote:
- Someone at the county or state level screwed up their voter registration.
- Improperly filled out forms resulting in the registration not being accepted.
- Health reasons preventing them from getting to the county offices on time.
- Work and family schedules interfering with getting down to county offices, (disproportionately burdening single, working mothers).
- Travel problems getting to county offices.
- New Montana citizens, (including students who had changed residence in the past 30 days, a fairly typical problem in October/November).
The reasons stated by supporters of the bill included:
- Preventing voter fraud
- Reducing long lines during voting
- Reducing the burden on county clerks and polling staff
Each of these supporting reasons were systematically knocked down during the bill's hearing by the Secretary of State, staff from Yellowstone County (the site of very long voting lines last Election Day due to polling place consolidation, inadequate planning and insufficient numbers of poll workers to deal with the resulting confusion). During the bill's hearing, no proponents could point to a single case of voter fraud caused by last-day registration, and no poll workers complained of overwork or confusion about how to handle last minute voter registration. There was no objective data to support the assertions that voter fraud is a problem with last-day registration, that long lines at polling places were the result of last-day registration, or that polling staff were unduly burdened by last minute registration requestions. In short, the proponent's reasons were made up out of thin air, with no supporting data.
To be fair, there was one woman at the hearing who had attempted to gather this kind of data, but she admitted that her methods were flawed and that the Secretary of State's data was probably more accurate.
Legislating from speculation is a terrible way to run a government. No business owner could continue to operate their business this way. Had the supporters of this bill honestly stated that their reason was to disenfranchise working people, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, native Americans, students, and new Montana citizens, then we'd have to respect their position and admire their forthrightness. But this unstated reason remained so, and in it's place were, and are weasel words and a pernicious and disingenuous attempt to silence citizens and destroy representative government.