A Bozeman legislator is taking a second stab at trying to pass a law that would require special identification and longer waiting periods for Montana voters.
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Ted Washburn (R - Bozeman) presented HB-108 to the House State Administration committee, which then heard almost two hours of testimony from opponents of the bill. No commenters spoke in favor of it.
Washburn’s bill, which he said would deter voter fraud, would require all Montanans to have either a state driver’s license, tribal identification card or state photo identification card in order to register to vote.
The bill would eliminate the ability to register using other identification, such as university ID’s, U.S. passports or utility bills and bank statements showing names and addresses.
The main argument of several of the 26 commenters, many of whom said they’ve served as election judges, was that the bill was trying to fix a problem — voter fraud — that doesn’t exist.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said she’s received no reports of voter fraud.
Cascade rancher and retired Lt. Col. Richard Leibert suggested that the committee commission an interim study to see if fraud is really a problem.
“In the military, we had a saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Leibert said.
Washburn sponsored a similar bill in 2011 that was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, partly because it required people without driver’s licenses to pay $8 every four years for ID cards that did little else.
“The proponents of HB-152 cited ‘voter fraud’ as the impetus for this legislation, but could not produce a single example of such fraud,” Schweitzer wrote in his veto.
So this year, Washburn has added a clause saying that the state ID cards would be free.
Many opponents said that didn’t offset the hidden costs that people have to pay to assemble the documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, required to get the card. They also pointed out the cost to the state in paying for both the IDs and the potential lawsuits that would result.
McCulloch said the bill would affect at least 11 percent of voters who don’t have driver’s licenses, which includes a high proportion of students, seniors, Native Americans, the disabled and low-income citizens. These groups have the least money to pay for IDs and the documents and transportation required to get them, McCulloch said.
“How does this differ from a poll tax?” McCulloch said. “States that have done this are now dealing with legal costs defending themselves in lawsuits.”
Poll taxes — mandatory fees paid prior to voting — were abolished as being unfair to low-income people in 1964 by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Several tribal members stepped to the podium, not only as Native Americans but also as veterans.
Rep. Clarena Brockie (D - Harlem) of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes said the bill put a burden on rural Native Americans and didn’t allow veterans to use their military IDs.
Assiniboine Tribe member Dustin Monroe, also a veteran, said the cost of the “free” IDs — more than $895,000 by his calculation — would fall to the counties.
“This bill is meant to suppress the vote,” Monroe said. “Voting is every citizen’s right. Many Native Americans fought for that right.”
For those who move into the state or from one county to another, the bill would increase the voter registration waiting time to 60 days from 30, making it the most restrictive in the nation.
This effectively eliminates any voter who moves two months prior to an election, which attorney Beth Brenneman said violates the National Voting Rights Act for federal elections.
Rep. Franke Wilmer (D - Bozeman) asked Washburn if the American Legislative Exchange Council inspired the bill. ALEC is a national organization backed by large corporations that convinces legislators to carry conservative bills.
“This is not an ALEC bill. I am not a member of ALEC,” Washburn said. “I think this is a good bill, especially for seniors, students and low-income Montanans.
The committee did not take any immediate action on Washburn’s proposed bill.
Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.