Montana voters will lie to rest a divisive issue this November when they fill out their General Election ballot – whether to continue allowing new voters to register on Election Day, as the state has allowed since 2006. The legislative referendum will appear on the ballot after heated legal debate. In February, the state Supreme Court ruled the issue could proceed when it denied a petition by voting-rights groups attempting to occlude the referendum from the ballot. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the referendum in 2013, placing it on the 2014 ballot, though it was rewritten after opponents argued that language in the referendum’s ballot initiative was misleading. The language asserted that ending same-day registration was necessary to comply with federal law. If the referendum passes and same-day registration is rescinded, voter registration would end at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.
By teeing up the issue as a referendum, rather than as a bill, the Legislature circumvented a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Proponents of the measure, mostly Republicans, argue that having voters register at least two days before Election Day will ward off fraud and pare back lines at polling places. Only a few cases of voter fraud have been uncovered, and Democrats and voting rights groups say it is a non-issue. They say same-day registration boosts voter turnout.
According to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, more than 29,000 Montanans have registered and voted on Election Day since the law went into effect in 2006. Last year alone, the McCulloch’s office reported adding more than 1,000 voters to the list.