In a press release Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte sent out last week he bragged about signing two bills into law that will make it harder to vote. Photos documented the event. Each included the governor, Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and the lawmaker who sponsored the legislation.
They were all smiles.
Jacobsen specifically requested the bills to protect “the integrity of elections.” But she, the governor and every other lawmaker in Montana know our elections are already protected. There are basically zero cases of voter fraud in the state. But here we are.
First, let’s look at Senate Bill 169, which is seemingly harmless. Residents must issue a government-issued photo ID to vote, or they have to produce two other forms of identification. Who can’t procure those? It turns out, students. For 20 years the state has accepted college-issued identifications to vote. Under this law that’s prohibited, despite the fact that there are no documented cases of impropriety related to the practice.
It’s clear this bill will burden young people, but it could also have an outsized impact on other pockets of the population such as low-income Montanans. What’s the point of marginalizing either of them? Why is the Republican Party, which enjoyed a red tidal wave last year when more residents voted than ever before, the party proposing the restrictions?
There’s more. House Bill 176 at once eliminates Election Day voter registration and determines the state’s residents can’t think for themselves. Another of Jacobsen’s top priorities, she said, “Montana sets the standard for elections across the country, however, there is always room for improvement.”
According to whom? Not the state’s election administrators. In fact, the legislative chair of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders said the state’s residents already “voted to keep late registration on Election Day. Being an election administrator, I just can’t go against that.”
What a concept. Since 57% of voters in 2014 rejected a referendum that would have overturned same-day registration, why defy the will of the people? Well, the myriad justifications are all over the map.
There were those who argued that since there are deadlines for other things, like registering your vehicle, why not make registering to vote the Monday before Election Day? Others claimed voters “not on our side of the aisle” are bused to the polls. Another lawmaker was more blunt when making the case that the registration deadline should actually be moved back even further: “This is a Republican bill. This is a platform bill … Who are we compromising with?”
Apparently, the legislators’ goal of tightening their grip on power under the guise of “election integrity” outweighed the majority of Montanans who voted to leave the current system in place. And the governor signing the bill into law was such a celebratory occasion that it deserved photos normally reserved for the passing of landmark legislation.
To no one’s surprise, both bills are now headed to court. The day after Gianforte signed Senate Bill 169 and House Bill 176, the Montana Democratic Party asked a judge to overturn the laws because they unconstitutionally target students, Native Americans, the elderly and those with disabilities.
It defies logic that the overwhelming winners of the last election want to change the rules. It’s further proof that we’re lucky the state Legislature only convenes for four months every two years.
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