Montana House Approves GOP Election Referendums

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Montana House on Wednesday approved a pair of election referendums that sparked uproar in the Senate two weeks ago when Democrats failed in an attempt to block the bills.

Senate Bill 405 aims to establish a voter registration deadline of the Friday before Election Day, and Senate Bill 408 would allow the top two vote-getters in a primary election to advance, regardless of their political party.

The House vote means the referendums will sidestep a potential veto from Gov. Steve Bullock and appear before voters on the 2014 ballot.

Republicans had success with passing referendums in the 2011 session and are attempting to use the same strategy this session with measures they fear the governor would reject.

The GOP says requiring Montana voters to the register early would lead them to be more responsible. It also would decrease wait times and long lines at polls caused by same-day registration.

But Democrats say the measure is an effort to suppress minority, women and elderly voters. Sen. Bryce Bennett, a Missoula Democrat, was among the most fierce opponents of the measure, saying it would limit constitutional rights.

“In Montana, we have a right to vote,” Bennett said. He added, “And that means everyone gets it, no matter what.”

Republicans also advanced Senate Bill 408 despite Democratic objection that it would encourage a single-party system. The measure would help prevent third-party candidates from taking votes that can sway general elections, which has harmed Republicans recently.

Three other GOP-backed referendums were killed Wednesday.

— House Bill 619 would have added a constitutional amendment that says there’s no constitutional guarantee to abortion. It failed to receive the 100 votes needed from the entire Legislature to get on the ballot.

— House Bill 423 aimed to set statewide parameters on sex education. It failed to garner a majority vote in the Senate.

— House Bill 496, designed to allow religious organizations to be excluded from campaign finance reports, was tabled in committee.

Other measures still could pass.

— House Bill 277 would redefine the state legislative term limits set by voters in the 1990s. The constitutional amendment has bipartisan support, but the House and Senate are still trying to hash out differences in the plan that that would limit state legislators to a maximum of 16 years in office.

— House Bill 521 would require a minor to obtain parental consent when seeking an abortion. It passed its initial vote in the Senate.

— House Bill 79 has passed both chambers and would allow for a constitutional amendment to rename the office of the state auditor to the commissioner of securities and insurance.

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