HELENA (AP) — House Republicans advanced a plan Thursday to end same-day voter registration that critics blame for long lines on Election Day, but supporters argue improves access to the voting booth.
The measure, which cleared an initial 61-39 House vote on Thursday along party lines, would end voter registration the Friday before Election Day. Supporters of House Bill 30 argue the deadline provides ample time for voter registration, while freeing up county officials to deal with just traditional voters on Election Day.
"Why in the world can't people register on Friday and give the county clerk and records time to take care of business and get ready for the election," said Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip.
Some Republicans complain that Democrats take advantage of same-day registration to increase Democratic turnout at the polls. They also argue that same-day voter registration could lead to voter fraud.
Democrats argued that the GOP is trying to stifle voter turnout by making it more difficult to register. They said it would be better to focus efforts on improving same day registration in order to combat long lines.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch called the measure a "ruthless bill" that will run people away from the polls. Her office says no voter fraud has come from same-day voter registration.
"Turning people away from the polls is not a solution to shortening the lines on Election Day," said McCulloch, a Democrat. "Supporters need to stop sugar-coating the true intent of this bill, which is to ultimately suppress the vote in Montana."
Election officials say that less than 2 percent of voters this last election registered on the same day.
The measure faces another vote in the full House before going to the Senate.
A similar proposal cleared the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, but it was vetoed by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
(On Thursday, Reps. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, and Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, voted for the legislation. Rep. Clarena Brockie voted no.)