The Montana Legislature will begin taking action on bills this week, and some action will be taken on controversial matters that will challenge the promises made by legislative leadership and Gov. Steve Bullock to cooperate.
One such bill was introduced by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Gallatin County. It would curtail late voter registration, ban registration on Election Day, require voters to show picture ID when they show up at the polls, and mandate that voters show some form of proof of birth when they register to vote.
Washburn’s legislation is a solution looking for a problem.
Almost certainly, Republicans will support such legislation, and Democrats will oppose it.
If it does pass the GOP-dominated Legislature, look for Bullock to grab his Bic pen and veto it.
That’s because Democrats believe that people who register at the last minute tend to be Democrats.
Republicans may genuinely believe there is a problem with voter fraud in Montana, but there is certainly some evidence that Republicans would benefit from such legislation, and Democrats would be harmed.
At least that’s the way it has been in recent elections. It certainly was not in the past, and may not be in the future.
In the 2004 presidential election, Republicans made a concerted effort to court the vote of evangelical Christians. Many registered at the last minute and would have benefitted from same-day registration if it had been available at that time.
So, which party can benefit from more lenient registration and voting rules in the future is anybody’s guess. Both parties should be wary about taking stands on Washburn’s bill based on what they see will bring advantage to their electoral chances. They may very well be wrong.
Instead, we hope they look at what can ensure that people who want to vote can do so with a minimum of effort. At one time in our history, people of both parties were excited when there was a high voter turnout. We think it says a lot for our democracy when people make the effort to get out and express their views.
Montana has a long history of fair, open elections, and we don’t see any indication that having same-day registration has changed that. Instead, the evidence is that more people are taking part in the process.
Our first choice would be to have mail-in voting, like the city of Havre has had for municipal elections in recent years. More people vote, and there is no indication that the higher turnout favors one party or the other.
Until that enlightened position is taken by the state Legislature, we think the present system ought to be as open and available as possible.
That means rejecting the Washburn proposals and moving forward with the present, successful system.