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Montana's U.S. Senators Split On Federal Voting Reform Bill

Montana’s U.S. senators are coming down on opposite sides of a sweeping Democratic-sponsored proposal to reform voting rules across the country. The bill’s prospects are uncertain after stalling on a party line Senate vote Tuesday.

Republicans united to filibuster the For the People Act, preventing Democrats from opening debate in a deadlocked Senate.

GOP Sen. Steve Daines criticized the bill in a prepared statement after the vote, saying it rewrites election rules to favor Democrats while stepping on Montana laws.

“Elections should be administered by the states, not the federal government, in a manner that is safe, secure and allows all Montanans to trust the outcome,” Daines says.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester supports the bill. He told NPR’s Morning Edition before Tuesday’s vote that federal lawmakers need to bolster voting rights as Montana and other Republican-led states pass laws limiting ballot access.

“And this is really important because if we’re going to have a democracy that works, we need to have the voices at the polls from everybody, not just a select few,” Tester says.

The Biden administration says Tuesday’s failed vote spurs a new conversation about the way forward on voting rights policy. NPR reports that likely means renewed discussions about changing the filibuster, which Republicans are using to block a handful of Democratic priorities.

The For the People Act would mandate automatic voter registration and same-day registration, while loosening voter ID requirements, reforming campaign finance practices and addressing partisan gerrymandering.

The bill would also formalize protections for Indigenous tribal members collecting absentee ballots.

This year the Republican-dominated Montana Legislature passed laws limiting ballot collection and ending same-day voter registration.

State lawmakers also changed voter ID requirements so residents can no longer cast their ballot with a college photo ID as a sole form of identification, though people with concealed firearm carry permits now can.

Tribes and Montana Democrats are challenging the new laws in court. They say the changes unnecessarily burden voters to address fraud that hasn’t been proven to exist.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio