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Election Day Registration Debate In Missoula

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University of Montana Journalism School
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Busy, hardworking Montanans either benefit from being able to register to vote on election day, or, allowing people to register on election day makes voting harder for other busy, hardworking Montanans.

Those were the arguments Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and State Senator Champ Edmunds made at a debate put on by City Club Missoula.

Montana voters are being asked to decide whether to continue to allow election day registration. That question, LR-126 is on this year’s ballot.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch
Credit Eric Whitney
Linda McCulloch spoke in favor of retaining election day registration during a debate held by City Club Missoula on October 13, 2014.

Democrat McCulloch says most people who register on election day are those who’ve recently moved, either across Montana or just across town.

"When you’ve moved, you have to get your house in order, you have to get your job straightened out, you have to get your kids in school," McCulloch says. "And the last thing (people) think about doing is registering to vote, because they don't have to."

Deploying and returning members of the military and elderly people who've moved to assisted living centers also benefit from being able to register and vote on election days, she says.

Election day registration has been the law in Montana since 2006, after the state legislature ended the requirement that voters have to register at least 30 days before election day.

Republican Champ Edmunds is urging a “yes” vote on LR-126, which would end election day registration. It says voters would have until 5 p.m. on the Friday before election day to register.

"It puts an unfair burden on voters such as working mothers, senior citizens, and people with physical disabilities who have taken the time to responsibly register in advance, and disenfranchises voters on election day who can’t wait hours in line to vote" Edmunds says.

McCulloch disputed voters registering on election day create long lines for other voters.

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Credit Eric Whitney
Champ Edmunds spoke against election day registration at a debate held by City Club Missoula on October 13, 2014.

"Election day registrants vote at the county office, or a designated place," says McCulloch. "They don't vote at the polling places, so the lines at the polling places have nothing to do with election day voter registration."

Edmunds countered that even if election day registrants have their own line, it can still be long and cause some voters to walk away rather than wait in it, and that it’s reasonable to ask voters to take responsibility for their civic duty to vote and register on the Friday before election day.

"Currently, 39 states require voter registration at least one day prior to election day. There is a sound reason for this," says Edmunds. "It gives county election officers the needed time to process the legally required paperwork, ensure voters are legally registered, and ensures a smooth, quick process on election day."

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