Two bills aimed at reducing the chance of voter fraud in Montana - including one that eliminates same-day voter registration - passed the state House of Representatives Thursday.
http://laws.leg.mt.gov/laws11/LAW0203W$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=HB&P_BILL_NO=152&P_BILL_DFT_NO=&P_CHPT_NO=&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SBJ_DESCR=&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=&P_LST_NM1=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ="> House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, requires that voters show a state- or tribal-issued identification card when registering to vote. Currently, people are allowed to use myriad documents to prove residency, including utility bills.
That bill was sent to the Senate on a 65-35 vote Thursday. Washburn has said the bill is aimed at reducing the chance that out-of-state residents cast ballots in Montana.
The second bill, http://laws.leg.mt.gov/laws11/LAW0203W$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=HB&P_BILL_NO=180&P_BILL_DFT_NO=&P_CHPT_NO=&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SBJ_DESCR=&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=&P_LST_NM1=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ="> HB 180, sponsored by Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, would require people to register to vote by the Friday before an election.
Edmunds said the lines of would-be voters stretching out of courthouses on election nights, which have become familiar in Montana, exhaust poll workers and open the door to fraud.
Edmunds' bill passed the House on Thursday 65-35 and faces a second, procedural vote today before moving to the Senate for consideration.
Critics have argued that the bills make it harder for people to vote even though there is little evidence that voter fraud is a problem in the state.
Democrats held a press conference Thursday to decry what they said was a push to disenfranchise Montana voters.
Speaking on the House floor Thursday, Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said the Montana Legislature has in the past made headway in giving more people access to the ballot box.
"This would be the first time we'd turn around and take something away from people," he said. "Why? It's this so called fraud we keep hearing about. I asked the secretary of state, ‘Is there fraud?' She said, ‘No.' I asked former Secretary of State Bob Brown, ‘Is there fraud?' He said, ‘No.'
"This is a solution desperately seeking a problem," Bennett said.
Several Republicans rose in support of the bill, saying their counties' election officials wanted same-day registration eliminated.
And Edmunds said that even if Democrats were correct that fraud isn't a major issue, it doesn't make sense to wait until it occurs to change the law.
"My house hasn't been broken into yet, but I still lock my doors at night," he said.
Daniel Person can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2665.