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House endorses bill to end same-day voter registration

February 5, 2021 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House endorsed a bill Thursday to end same-day voter registration, with supporters saying it would help ensure the integrity of elections and end long lines at the polls. Opponents said it would disenfranchise people, including tribal members without access to vehicles and nearby voting offices.

The bill is among several proposed changes to election laws the Montana Legislature is hearing following former President Donald Trump’s unfounded assertions that the 2020 election was marred by voter fraud.

The sponsor, Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence, had initially proposed ending voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election. In a compromise, a committee amended the bill to end registration at noon on Monday, when late registration currently ends to give counties time to print out their poll books, Greef said.

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“This is a Republican bill. This is a platform bill. The sponsor asked for Friday. Republicans asked for Friday. Who are we compromising with?” asked Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, noting that Republicans have a 67-33 majority in the House.

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, offered an amendment to switch the date back to Friday. Supporters argued there are deadlines for all sorts of activities including registering a vehicle, renewing a driver’s license or filing your taxes. The amendment failed 44-56.

Montana has had same-day voter registration since 2005. Rep. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman, argued the bill went against a 2014 referendum in which 57% of Montana voters rejected overturning same-day voter registration.

Native American lawmakers said ending same-day voter registration would hurt their voter turnout.

Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, told of an election night in Gallatin County where a nonprofit group “not on our side of the aisle” bused students to the polls all day and at 11:30 p.m. the line of voters flowed from the second floor of the courthouse outside and around the block, stressing workers in the election department.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, tried to bring the Republicans back together on the issue he said they have been trying to pass for a long time.

“I know this isn’t exactly what we want, and I understand that,” he said. “If this bill dies, we can’t get anything. If it survives I’m going to push (the Senate) for the Friday before.”

The House endorsed the bill 61-39 on second reading. The final vote in the House is scheduled for Friday.

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On Wednesday, a Senate committee heard a bill that would revise voter identification laws to require people to present a valid government or tribal-issued photo ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number to register to vote. Registrants could also provide another form of photo ID along with proof of residency such as a bank statement, paycheck or utility bill, when registering.

When voting, a valid government or tribal-issued photo ID; a voter registration card; or another photo ID with proof of residence will be required. The committee did not act on the bill.