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Montana Late Voter Registration Revision Measure, LR-126 (2014)

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Late Voter Registration Revision Measure
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Type:State statute
Referred by:Montana State Legislature
Topic:Suffrage
Status:On the ballot

The Montana Late Voter Registration Revision Measure, LR-126 is on the November 4, 2014 ballot in Montana as a legislatively-referred state statute. The measure, upon voter approval, would change the deadline for late voter registration from poll closing on election day to 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before election day.[1]

The measure was sponsored in the Montana Legislature by State Senator Alan Olson (R-23) as SB 405.[2]

Text of measure

The official ballot text reads as follows:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 126

AN ACT REFERRED BY THE LEGISLATURE

AN ACT PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF MONTANA ELECTIONS BY ENDING LATE VOTER REGISTRATION ON THE FRIDAY BEFORE ELECTION DAY AND ELIMINATING ELECTION DAY REGISTRATION; ENSURING COMPLIANCE WITH THE NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION ACT; PROVIDING THAT THE PROPOSED ACT BE SUBMITTED TO THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS OF MONTANA AT THE GENERAL ELECTION TO BE HELD IN NOVEMBER 2014; AMENDING SECTIONS 13‐2‐301, 13‐2‐304, 13‐19‐207, AND 61‐5‐107, MCA; AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE.

The 2013 Legislature submitted this proposal for a vote. LR‐126 changes the deadline for late voter registration from the close of polls on election day to 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the election. LR‐126 also moves the deadline for changes to an elector's voter registration information from the close of polls on election day to 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the election.

[ ] YES on Legislative Referendum LR‐126

[ ] NO on Legislative Referendum LR‐126

—Montana Secretary of State, [1]

Support

The measure was introduced into the legislature by Sen. Alan Olson (R-23).[2]

Supporters

Arguments

  • Sen. Olson (R-23) argued, “The people of Montana do have the right to show up and vote, but with that vote comes responsibility.”[4]
  • Rep. Ted Washburn (R-69) stated, “We are looking at increasing the integrity of the vote because we are trying to get all the people registered on the last Friday before election. We are trying to concentrate on the large crowds that come out. Some times it takes four to six hours to try and get them registered and trying to get them into vote.”[3]

Opposition

Opponents

Officials

Organizations

  • Montana AFL-CIO[6]
  • Montana Public Employees Association
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers
  • Montana Women Vote
  • Western Native Voice

Arguments

State Representative Tom Woods (D-64) argued against LR-126, saying:[5]

  • "The reason that proponents give for this is that same day registration results in a great deal of work for County Clerks on election day... but isn’t that what we pay our public employees for? Should we sacrifice the rights of thousands of Montanans simply because of an inconvenience to the clerks? I’m sorry, but that is just not sensible. If one night of overtime every other year is indeed the problem we can address it in other ways. We can add temporary staff at election time or we can simply accept later election returns. But this isn’t really the reason this issue is being pushed on us. Let’s examine some other reasoning."
  • "It was stated on the floor of the legislature that same-day registration invites voter fraud. OK, if that is the case, how many voter fraud cases have we seen in Montana? Well, since the year 2006 (the year we implemented Election Day registration) we have seen two instances of fraud, one of which involved an absentee ballot. Let’s balance that against the number of people who (since 2006) were able to register and vote on election day: over 28,000. I think this clearly states that keeping same-day voter registration is the right thing to do. So again, why is this even an issue?"
  • "The ballot initiative that I am talking about, LR–126 has been written and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This is a national group that promotes its agenda by writing and introducing bills in each individual state legislature. This group has determined that it is to their advantage to end same-day voter registration. It’s partisan politics. It’s allowing an out-of-state group to tell us how to run our state. It’s wrong."

Other arguments include:

  • Gov. Bullock (D) said, "Anytime we’re making it more difficult for Montanans to vote, it’s a sad day in Montana. We should be doing everything we can to make sure that every Montanan can vote – not doing everything we can to prevent them from voting."[4]
  • Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-92) countered a Republican argument, stating, “Despite the fact that there may be a little bit more work for our county clerks when it comes to election day, we still have a right to vote. Despite the fact that there might be long lines sometimes, we still have a right to vote.”[3]
  • President of Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT), Eric Feaver, argued, "LR-126 is clear voter suppression, and it cuts across the board of affected groups – Native Americans, university students, people who have changed addresses and veterans."[6]
  • Montana Women Vote’s Sarah Howell contended, “Election Day registration is a safeguard that means if you find yourself unregistered on Election Day – whether by error, because you moved, or for any other reason – you are still able to register and vote at the same time. This is particularly important for seniors, veterans who have served out of state, people who live in rural Montana, low-income folks, and others.”[7]

Related lawsuits

See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2014

MEA-MFT, et al. v. Fox

2014 measure lawsuits
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By state
CaliforniaMichiganMissouriMontana
By lawsuit type
Ballot text
Campaign contributions
Constitutionality
Motivation of sponsors
Petitioner residency
Post-certification removal
Single-subject rule
Signature challenges
Initiative process

On December 3, 2013, the MEA-MFT, AFL-CIO, Montana Public Employees Association, Montana Human Rights Network, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, Montana Women Vote and Western Native Voice filed a lawsuit with the Montana Supreme Court in an attempt to remove LR-126 from the ballot. The petitioners claimed LR-126’s title language to be false, as one line read, “ENSURING COMPLIANCE WITH THE NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION ACT [NVRA].” They noted, “Nothing in LR-126 is required in any way by the NVRA.” The “inaccurate language” was returned by the Attorney General to the Secretary of State without proper review, according to the petitioners. Therefore, the measure “is legally insufficient as a ballot measure.”[8] The ACLU, League of Women Voters, AARP and the Montana Conservation Voters all filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the petitioners.[9] The Attorney General, the respondent, stated, “Petitioners’ argument fails because LR-126 does contain language regarding the NVRA that is accurately summarized in the referendum’s title and addresses a concern raised by legislative staffers.”[10]

On February 5, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in a 5-1 decision that LR-126 would stay on the ballot. Justice Michael Wheat was the lone dissenter. He said, "It is undeniable that same-day voter registration has absolutely nothing to do with compliance with the NVRA (National Voter Registration Act). Thus, the statement in the title of LR-126 to the contrary is a fatal defect that cannot be cured." Chief Justice Mike McGrath, writing for the majority, said, "[W]e are reluctant to take the extraordinary step of nullifying its placement on the ballot. [Supreme Court precedents] counsel in favor of allowing the measure to proceed to a vote."[11] The court did, however, declare the contested sentence in the ballot statement to be incorrect and ordered it to be rewritten. The original statement said that the referendum's approval was necessary to ensure compliance with a federal law, the National Voter Registration Act. According to the court, LR-126's intent is not required by the NVRA.[12]

Path to the ballot

See also: Legislatively-referred state statutes in Montana

A simple majority is required in both chambers to pass a legislatively-referred state statute onto the ballot in Montana. The bill was approved through a vote in both legislative chambers. SB 405 was approved by the Montana House of Representatives on April 17, 2013. SB 405 was approved by the Montana State Senate on April 19, 2013.[2]

Senate vote

April 19, 2013 Senate vote

Montana SB 405 Senate Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 29 59.18%
No2040.82%

House vote

April 17, 2013 House vote

Montana SB 405 House Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 58 58.00%
No4242.00%

See also

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