House Republicans pushed through a bill Thursday to end same-day voter registration and instead cut it off at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. House Bill 30 by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, passed an initial 61-39 vote, with all Republicans voting for it and all Democrats against it. The bill faces a final vote before heading to the Senate. Republicans cited long waiting lines and confusion on Election Day resulting from what’s known as “same-day voter registration” as a reason to change the 2005 state law. Democrats countered that it would deprive people of their right to vote if they learned on Election Day they weren’t registered when they thought they were. “All we’re doing is moving the registration back so that the clerk and recorder’s staff can work on the election on Election Day, and the voters, if they’re going to run through the voting process, can be moved along speedily, rather than a four- to six-hour wait,” Washburn said.
Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, agreed, saying, “Why in the world can’t people register on Friday, give the county clerks and recorders reasonable time to take care of business, and be ready for an election?”
A former election administrator, Rep. Pat Ingraham, R-Thompson Falls, said voter registration on Election Day was intended “to address those few people that might have been moving in and just didn’t get things changed and really wanted to vote.”
But it has become a “greater burden to bear” because so many more people are using it, she said.
But Democrats said the right to vote is paramount. County elections supervisors hire more staff and buy more computers to handle the overflow of those registering to vote on Election Day.
“We’re preparing to deny the right to vote, a fundamental right, to people who may have forgotten to change their registration until the last minute, people who have moved or been forgetful,” said Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, who said he was forgetful. “Denying that vote is a form of punishment that we reserve for felons.”