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AARP Joins Fight To Preserve Same-Day Voter Registration In Montana

Montana Legislature Hears Heated Testimony On Mail Voting Bill

AARP has joined those fighting a Montana ballot measure that would end the practice of allowing voters to register on Election Day.

The non-profit advocacy group for older Americans claims 37 million members nationwide. Its national board president was in Billings yesterday to advocate for easier voting access.

Jeannine English doesn’t mince words when speaking against Legislative Referendum 126.

"It’s a form of voter suppression."

She calls this ballot measure an out-of-state-crafted solution looking for a problem.

English is from Sacramento, CA. She has expertise in election issues, including: campaign finance reform and government integrity. Earlier this year she was named the national president of AARP.

She says it’s important for older Americans to be involved in the Democratic process. She’s worried measures like  LR-126 would limit the number of people who can vote.

"And we think our responsibility is to make sure that everyone has the freedom to vote and that voting is easy. That’s our constitutional right. That’s the democracy that we live in. We live in the greatest democracy and and we should want to extend it to the greatest number of people. And that’s why we believe that voters should vote no on LR-126. "

For the past 9 years, Montanans have been able to register to vote and vote on Election Day.

The Republican-controlled 2013 Montana Legislature opted in the waning days of the session to place the issue before voters and avoided a potential veto by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

During the Senate floor debate on this bill on April 4th, 2013, Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings spoke in favor of Senate Bill 405, which would ask voters if they want to move the deadline for voter registration to 5 pm the Friday before Election Day.

Essmann said on the Senate Floor this bill should address the long, slow lines at the polling places because of people who showed up at the last minute to register and then vote on Election Day

"It’s not like you wake up that Tuesday in November and you just find out, oh my god there’s going to be an election today, maybe I should go register. Maybe I should go vote. I mean we know its coming. If it’s not a high enough priority of them doing the simple step of registering, just three days earlier, are they going to be a thoughtful voter?"

"The majority of people that use same-day registration isn’t because of a lack of responsibility or they're lazy; they have a good reason for not doing it," says Montana AARP President Joy Bruck of Helena.

"And their responsibility is to go to the polls and be an informed voter. That to me is the voter responsibility. The elections offices and elections in general should be made as convenient as possible to the voters."

Bruck says as an election judge she’s heard why people register on Election Day. She says if local election officials need help on Election Day they should get the help.

The issue of ending the practice has come before Montana lawmakers several times, including the 2013 session.

Senator Alan Olson of Roundup is the sponsor of Senate Bill 405. Olson said during his closing remarks from the Senate Floor debate from April 4th, 2013, while he doesn’t always agree with the referendum process this instance is different.

"But when you get something this important and this contentious, this does belong out there for the public to make that determination."

Montana is one of 10 states that allows voter registration on Election Day. The Montana Secretary of State’s office has said more than 29-thousand Montanans have taken advantage of that since 2006.

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