Democratic Efforts Expand Voter Rolls in Montana

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Election officials say there are more than 36,000 newly registered voters on the rolls this year, primarily due to Democratic efforts.

“We’re getting about 100 a day from the Obama campaign,” said Barb Cox, Yellowstone County’s election clerk. “We might get 50 to 100 a week from the Republican Party.”

Other urban counties in Montana are seeing similar streams of newly registered voters, mostly Democrats.

Charlotte Mills, Gallatin County clerk and recorder, said her offices has had days of 100 registrations and waves of new registrations tied mostly to Democratic political functions at Montana State University.

“There is one group that is very partisan. They came in the day before (Gov.) Brian Schweitzer visited MSU. The man said he needed 600 blank application forms,” Mills said. “He already had 100 of them, got 600 more and came back the next day with 700 filled out.”

Republican groups have brought in considerably fewer new registrations, Mills said.

But low volume isn’t a concern for the Republicans. GOP spokesman Jake Eaton says Democrats have traditionally relied on man-on-the-street registrations that haven’t necessarily yielded positive results at the polls. He says Republicans are much more deliberate in who they sign up.

Republicans rely on “microtargeting,” Eaton said, using a GOP database of voters likely to vote Republican either because they have been identified through telephone polling or because they belong to groups that are generally Republican-leaning. The party collects hunting license information, interest group membership lists, magazine subscriptions and names of those with military license plates.

The GOP Voter Vault has identified 8,200 Republican voters from other states who have moved to Montana. Eaton said the party will make a concerted effort to get those people registered to vote.

“Our registrants will turn out,” Eaton said.

Caleb Weaver, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, said campaign volunteers do target areas where they believe Obama voters are most likely to be found. But they also believe the political process is better when more people vote.

“What you’re seeing reflects where Barack Obama himself comes from, which is the idea that if you get more people involved in the process, that’s a good thing, even if we’re signing people up who might not be voting for Barack Obama,” Weaver said.

Since the primary election in June, the new-voter numbers are up 20,019.

Secretary of State Brad Johnson said he expects there could be a push of 10,000 more new registrants before Oct. 6, which is the last day Montanans can register to receive absentee ballots mailed to their homes. After that, people must register at their clerk and recorder’s office.