WHITEFISH – Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch spoke about the importance of voting and retaining Election Day voter registration during a lunch with Flathead Area Young Professionals (FAYP) on Wednesday.
“My job is to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote, is able to vote,” the secretary of state said, before explaining several of the initiatives that she’s started and worked on to ensure this.
One project is the My Voter Page, a website that allows voters to check whether they are registered, gives them directions to their polling place and lets them see a sample ballot so they know what to expect.
“It makes it virtually impossible for you not to vote,” McCulloch said.
Yet she acknowledged that engaged voters are more likely to use the site in the first place. In addition to the My Voter Page, the office of the secretary sends out a voter information pamphlet to every household that has at least one eligible voter.
Another election issue she focused on was legislative referendums that are on the ballot in November. One referendum involves Election Day voter registration. LR-126 proposes to end same-day registration and also close registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.
McCulloch said she is deeply opposed to the referendum.
“More than 2,600 people in Flathead County have used Election Day voter registration to cast a ballot, and it’s our civic duty to ensure the door stays open for future voters,” she said.
According to McCulloch, there is no good reason to disallow Election Day voting registration, and she refuted the argument that late registers are less informed than other voters.
The proposed legislation “effectively denies people the right to vote,” she said.
She went on to clarify that it is not just students who register late.
“Many of these people have just moved to a different part of the state and registering to vote is the last thing on their mind until Election Day. It’s families,” she said.
The other referendum, The Montana State Auditor Renaming Amendment, C-45, proposes to rename the State Auditor office to the “Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.”
“There isn’t any money in it, but it would be good because the state auditor doesn’t actually audit anything,” McCulloch said.
Montana’s first female secretary of state has a long history of civic engagement, having served two terms as the Montana superintendent of public instruction. She describes her first voting experience as a formative moment.
As a high school senior, “I was alone in the booth, with the curtains around me, and it was like a punch to the stomach. ‘Oh my gosh!’ I thought, ‘I have the opportunity to change the world with my vote,’” she said.
That first voting experience has led her to participate in “absolutely every” vote since then, and she is convinced that getting people to vote when they are young is one of the keys to ensuring a life of civic engagement.
One way to get more youths to vote would be to allow them to register to vote online, which would also make life easier on the registration officials who often struggle to read the varied handwriting on the registration forms.
As for actually voting online, “that’s down the pipeline,” according to McCulloch.
Although she calls the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, a “bad decision by the Supreme Court,” McCulloch retains her belief in the ability of ordinary citizens to shape the state and the nation through their votes.
“You shouldn’t get the opportunity to complain about how bad things are if you don’t vote,” she said.
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