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.
Lopach said it’s likely the new system would be challenged in court, although he noted the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Washington’s law in 2008. The court refused to consider an appeal in October 2012.
Likewise, he said SB 405 could face litigation. If voters approve the measure in 2014, they could no longer register to vote on the same day as the election. The last possible day to register would be the Friday before Election Day. Republicans argue that eliminating same-day voter registration would ease the burden on election workers and voters who wait in long lines at polling places.
… Democrats argued the bill would disenfranchise voters and leave zero room to correct registration errors. “Anytime we’re making it more difficult for Montanans to vote, it’s a sad day in Montana,” Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock told reporters last week. “We should be doing everything we can to make sure that every Montanan can vote – not doing everything we can to prevent them from voting.”
Since same-day voter registration went into effect in 2006, more than 28,000 people in Montana have registered on Election Day. A separate bill to end same-day voter registration awaits the governor’s signature. If the governor vetoes it, SB 405 will go to the voters’ approval in 2014.