Gianforte continues political games, breaks promises to Natives
Last updated 2/8/2021 at 8:39am
Gov. Greg Gianforte and other high-ranking officials within his administration don’t trust their colleagues or Montanans to make their own decisions. Despite a majority of legislators and voters agreeing a piece of legislation was bad for Montana, Gianforte insisted on pushing his national agenda onto the people of Montana.
A bipartisan group of legislators in the House State Administration Committee voted to defeat and subsequently table House Bill 176. This bill would end Election Day voter registration, a process that has been used by more than 60,000 Montanans. Gov. Gianforte knows that turning away eligible voters while polls are still open is as tired as it is unpopular. The very same concept was also rejected by voters when it was on the ballot in 2014. Still, he refused to accept the committee’s outcome. Instead, Gov. Gianforte threatened and manipulated his colleagues into passing HB 176 out of committee. He bullied sitting legislators into ignoring the will of voters and their constituents.
Make no mistake, this betrayal of voters isn’t a mark of originality on Gov. Gianforte’s part. He simply copied and pasted a page from a national playbook. We see these same efforts in states across the nation. What Gov. Gianforte forgets is that a national agenda has never been appropriate or popular in Montana. What Gov. Gianforte ignores is that the national agenda will turn away the same voters that elected him. More troubling still, this agenda will disenfranchise thousands of Montanans from across the state and would have especially harmful impacts for Montanans in rural and Native communities.
Native American communities already face enough barriers to the ballot. It wasn’t too long ago that Native Americans weren’t even allowed to vote. And now that right is already under attack-again. By taking away valuable time for them to register to vote, the record turnout seen in the 2020 election will be a thing of the past. In reality, HB 176 moves Montana in the wrong direction when it comes to voting rights in Native communities. When Montana should be looking for solutions to enfranchise more Indigenous people, Gov. Gianforte wants to put the voters in the position of desperately defending even our most basic right.
Gov. Gianforte and other proponents of this legislation claim that HB 176 would strengthen and secure our elections. But what they fail to mention is that Montana’s elections are already safe and secure. They cannot point to one single documented case of fraud that stems from Election Day registration. In fact, they cannot point to a single documented case of voter fraud in Montana, period.
Supporters of this bill also spoke of election officials that were overburdened and overwhelmed by long lines of voters seeking to exercise their right to vote on Election Day. We recognize that our clerk and recorders have a unique and demanding job when it comes to processing ballots and voter registration forms on Election Night. Rather than asking our clerks to disenfranchise eligible voters, we should be asking them what resources they need to better-meet demands while still protecting the right to vote. A true leader would not eliminate services when demand exceeds supply, but rather seek to find solutions that would help alleviate the problem. But this is the play of the governor: underfund vital services, claim they aren’t getting the job done, and then cut them off entirely.
Unfortunately, HB 176 isn’t merely a flash in the pan. Over the coming weeks, Gov. Gianforte and other high-ranking officials will roll out several similarly problematic bills that undermine our democratic process. With HB 176 and every additional bill that threatens our right to vote, voters should remember the truth. The greatest threat to Montana’s elections isn’t Election Day voter registration. This process has been operating for 15 years without a single documented issue. It isn’t long lines. Our clerk and recorders are more than up to the task. The greatest threat to our elections is a governor who will stop at nothing to push his national agenda on the fiercely independent state of Montana, and do whatever he can to hold onto power.
Keaton Sunchild is political director of Western Native Voice