Voters in the 2018 general election will decide whether to enact proposed restrictions for individuals that collect and turn in absentee ballots during Montana’s elections, pending an Attorney General’s office review of legislation passed Thursday. By a 51-49 vote, the state House voted passed Senate Bill 352 before taking a four-day break for the Easter holiday last week, sending the referendum to the Department of Justice for a legal review. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, said his proposed referendum was a response to reports of possible ballot tampering associated with the get-out-the-vote practice, sometimes called “ballot harvesting.” No such cases of purported tampering have been confirmed in Montana.
If passed by the voters, the referendum would limit the number of ballots collected by those individuals to six ballots each, and require them to provide their contact information in a registry maintained by the voting office.
The ballot measure was opposed by college student groups and the Montana American Civil Liberties Union, who argued it would effectively create a barrier to voting for students, the elderly and those working multiple jobs. Several members of the University of Montana’s Public Interest Research Group, which conducts ballot-collection efforts in Missoula, spoke against the bill during a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month.