HELENA – A referendum on the November ballot could repeal Election Day voter registration, but voters haven’t seen one television ad, mailer or person mobilize in favor of the measure.
The only noise is coming from a group against the measure and they’ve thrown money and manpower at urging people to vote no.
If the legislative referendum appearing on the ballot as LR-126 passes, people could not register to vote on Election Day in future elections. The voter registration deadline would move to 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.
“All Montanans should have their voices heard in democracy and LR-126 is one of those efforts to take away that voice,” said Kate Stallbaumer, deputy campaign manager with Montanans for Free and Fair Elections. “We’re focused on protecting and safeguarding the constitutional right to vote.”
The group started organizing after the 2013 Legislative session when the Republican-led Legislature voted to put the issue on this year’s ballot. Making it a referendum instead of a bill sidestepped a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Many affiliated with Montanans for Fair and Free Elections have worked hard in recent years to thwart similar legislative bills, Stallbaumer said.
The group is using social media, television ads, mailers and people knocking on doors in 17 towns to get their message out, she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, Montana Women Vote, AARP and Western Native Voice are among the more than two dozen groups supporting the efforts. Most of the groups are based in Montana although a few such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are national with ties to the state, Stallbaumer said.
At least a dozen groups have contributed with money, time or other in-kind donations, according to the group’s filings with the state Commissioner of Political Practices. The ACLU, MEA-MFT, AFSCME, Northern Plains Resource Council, Western Native Voice, Montana Public Interest Research Group and Montana Conservation Voters have given the most in amounts ranging from $15,000 to just over $45,000.
Those supportive of the measure haven’t organized or spent any money on promoting their views, according to the main sponsor of the referendum, Republican Sen. Alan Olson of Roundup.
“There isn’t any organized effort to pass it,” he said. “I just thought let the voters decide.”
Olson said he’s somewhat disappointed by the efforts of Montanans for Free and Fair Elections.
“If people sit down and pay attention to what it really does, instead of listening to the hype on TV where veterans and ranchers and little old ladies can’t vote, I think people should make the right decision,” he said. You’re shortening it (voter registration) up by two business days. That’s it.”
Rosebud County Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator Geraldine Custer agrees with Olson.
“We really do not have time to be registering people walking through the door,” she said. “It’s a lengthy process.”
Montana is one of 10 states plus the District of Columbia that allow voter registration on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
None of the states that have it have repealed it.
The Montana bill that included Election Day voter registration passed in 2005 with only two votes against it, according to Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer Linda McCulloch, who appears in an ad created by Montanans for Free and Fair Elections.
“Virtually everyone supported it,” she said. “Election Day voter registration is the ultimate failsafe.”