Come 2014, it’s up to voters to decide the fate of Montana’s primary election system and late voter registration date. The Montana House and Senate cleared two referendums last week that could change the state’s voting laws. The measures passed largely along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor. Senate bills 408 and 405 are the same proposals that led Senate Democrats to pound on their desks and shout at the Republican Senate president earlier this month as they sought to halt legislation’s passage. The first of those measures, SB 408, would establish a “top-two” primary in Montana elections. Under such a system, voters would not have to choose which party’s primary ballot to fill out; rather, they would receive a single ballot and could vote for candidates from any party. The two people receiving the most votes — regardless of party affiliation — would advance to the general election. … If enacted, Montana would become the second state behind Washington to hold top-two primaries.
Articles about voting issues in Montana.
The Montana House of Representatives debated and passed a referendum on Tuesday which would eliminate same day voter registration. Senate Bill 405 lets voters decide if they want people lining up on election day and registering to vote. Republicans say same day voter registration is a bad idea, saying it contributes to long lines, chaos at the polls, and plus they say voters should be more organized and get their paperwork filed early.
After lengthy debates, the House on Tuesday endorsed two proposed referendums dealing with elections. By a 60-40 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 405 by Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, to change a 2005 state law and end voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. People no longer would be able to register to vote on Election Day and then cast their votes same day as has been the case since the 2005 law passed.
For several months, Montana counties have been shelling out taxpayer dollars to fight a Native voting-rights lawsuit – Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch – and William Main wants to know why. A taxpayer himself and former chairman of Fort Belknap Indian Community, he thinks other Montanans will also want to learn how come they’re fighting a suit that may end up costing hundreds of thousands, or even a million dollars.
Montana state Democratic Senator Sharon Peregoy appears to have been ejected from the Senate’s ethics committee—for pounding on her desk during a rowdy protest of all Democratic senators in that legislative body on Friday, April 5, said Peregoy, who is Crow. The Democrats, who are in the minority, had attempted to block majority Republicans from passing two bills seeking to restrict voting rights, according to Peregoy. When the Senate’s Republican president Jeff Essman ignored a Democratic motion, the minority members stood, shouted and banged on their desks for 15 minutes, as observers in the 2nd-floor gallery surrounding the chamber stamped, screamed and whistled. With Essman bellowing over the ruckus, Republicans passed the measures and sent them to the House. “The voting measures were among numerous anti-Indian bills the Senate has taken up,” Peregoy said. “I’ve never seen so many in one session—including water compacts, the size and range of bison herds and more.” Peregoy is one of three Native members of the 50-member Montana senate; the 100-member house has an additional five Natives.
The Montana Senate on Thursday passed a pair of proposed ballot referendums aimed at changing voting in Montana. The first measure, Senate Bill 405, would ask voters to eliminate same-day voter registration. The second bill, SB 408 would put a referendum on the ballot that would create a “top two primary” system in which only the top two vote-getters would qualify for the November general election ballot. Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, sponsored both bills, which passed on mostly partly-line votes with Republicans supporting the measures and Democrats opposing them.
Civil rights attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department contend a federal judge wrongly denied a request to establish satellite election offices for American Indians on three Montana reservations. At issue in the case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are the long distances some Indians in rural areas of the state must travel to reach county courthouses for early voting and late registration. While not as blatant as past discriminatory practices against Indians – who were once denied the vote outright – the difficulties some tribal members face reaching election offices puts them at a disadvantage to white voters, the government and plaintiffs said. In the run-up to last fall’s election, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sided with state and county election officials who fought the lawsuit seeking new election offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap Reservations.
A public interest research group is calling on Montanans to let the Legislature know it shouldn’t approve a bill seeking to eliminate same-day voter registration. House Bill 30 was introduced by Republican Representative Ted Washburn of Bozeman in response to those huge lines that developed at the polls last November with a sudden push of unregistered voters. Those people were in line by the 8 p.m. closing time, but it took several more hours to process the lines with people needing “same day” voter registration.
Later this month, parties will begin filing briefs in a federal lawsuit where the outcome could have major implications for Indian voters in Montana and the West. On Feb. 20, an appellate court ruled that a lawsuit brought by a group of Indian plaintiffs naming Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and county elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud, and Big Horn Counties as defendants, could go forward. The court denied McCulloch’s request to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction, and now the opening briefs in the case are due March 19. At the heart of the lawsuit is whether McCulloch and county elections officials violated portions of the federal Voting Rights Act that “prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.” The plaintiffs argue their rights to equal access to voting were violated when McCulloch and county elections officials refused to set up satellite voting offices on remote Indian reservations in advance of the November 2012 presidential election.
Montana: With 2014 Elections Looming, Ninth Circuit Agrees to Hear Native American Voting-Rights Appeal | ICTMN.com
On February 20, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes the nine westernmost states, said it would hear the appeal of a Montana voting-rights lawsuit. The appeal arose when a Montana federal judge, Richard Cebull, denied a 2012 request from Native voters for a preliminary injunction ordering early-voting/late-registration satellite offices on the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Fort Belknap reservations. The judge made his decision on October 30, 2012, and filed his order on Election Day, November 6. “This lawsuit, filed after months of requests for the satellite offices, could not be more timely,” said Blackfeet tribal member Tom Rodgers, who is working with Four Directions, a voting-rights group. “We see similar issues for tribes nationwide—efforts to impede Native registration, to limit the time for voting and to make it more difficult. All rights in a democracy flow from the right to vote.” For several election cycles, Four Directions has pressed for Native access to early voting, a convenient form of balloting that has increased election participation nationwide.