HELENA – After lengthy debates, the House on Tuesday endorsed two proposed referendums dealing with elections.

By a 60-40 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 405 by Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, to change a 2005 state law and end voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. People no longer would be able to register to vote on Election Day and then cast their votes same day as has been the case since the 2005 law passed.

Then the House backed SB408, also by Olson, to switch to primary election system in which the names of all candidates from all political parties for each office would appear on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters in each race will appear on the general election ballot. The bill passed 58-42.

Both bills face a final House vote this week.

If the Legislature passes them, the two measures will go directly on the 2014 ballot and avoid likely vetoes by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.


Republicans argued that ending Election Day voter registration would provide order by eliminating the long lines of those who hadn’t registered earlier.

Democrats said the bill could suppress the votes of students, Native Americans, veterans and people who have moved and thought they were registered to vote but learned on Election Day they weren’t.

The bill is similar to HB30 by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, which passed both chambers and is headed to Bullock.

In the case of the “top two” primary bill, Republicans supported it, while Democrats opposed it.

Republicans said it would increase voter turnout at primary elections and appeal to independents who don’t like being forced to vote in the primary of one political party or the other.

Democrats said it was an attempt to drive third parties off of the general election ballot.

A similar bill, HB436, by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, was tabled earlier in the session.

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