Bill Would Tighten Voter Eligibility

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Separate plans to tighten voter registration requirements and to allow people to register by political party faced stiff opposition Monday.

The registration requirements was criticized as an attempt to make it harder for college students to vote. But Rep. Ted Washburn said he is just trying to make sure that people who are not really Montana residents aren’t voting here.

“We’re just trying to cover the gaps to make sure the person is actually a resident of Montana,” the Bozeman Republican said.

One of the provisions of the bill he pitched to a House committee would not let people use college identification cards to register to vote. Washburn said people can still use driver’s licenses and other documents.

But Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said the bill tries to solve a voting fraud problem that does not exist in Montana.

She also opposed a plan heard later in the day in a Senate committee which would let people register by political party.

“A significant number of Montanans do not consider themselves to be affiliated with either party,” said McCulloch, a Democrat. “No voter should ever be pigeonholed in a primary, nor should any Montana ever be excluded from a (party) caucus.”

The Bozeman Republican carrying the idea said it is needed so that the political parties can better identify their supporters.

Sen. Joe Balyeat said the first-ever Republican presidential caucus held last year was restricted to party insiders because GOP voters are otherwise not identified.

If die-hard Republican voters had been allowed to commit to the Republican Party, then the party could have allowed them to participate in the closed caucus.

“This bill doesn’t force anyone to do anything, it just says they can voluntary register by party if they so choose,” Balyeat said.

Neither bill received a committee vote on Monday.