Montanans rejected efforts to curb late voter registration Tuesday.
The legislative referendum, LR-126, would have ended the ability for people to register to vote as late as Election Day, which has been allowed in Montana since 2006.
With 78 percent of precincts in, the Associated Press reported that 56 percent had voted to keep same-day registration and 44 percent had voted to end it.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Alan Olson, a Republican from Roundup, who says he introduced it because late registrants cause problems for volunteers at polling places and create long lines.
“This is to take the burden off of county elections administrators on Election Day,” Olson said. “They get spread very thin by trying to manage everything out in rural areas.”
But critics said the referendum was an attempt to disenfranchise Montana voters and keep Democrats home on Election Day. University of Montana political science professor Chris Muste said same-day registration occurs most in urban areas where voters tend to lean to the left.
Regardless of motive, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch estimates that 29,282 Montanans have used same-day registration since the practice began. She concedes that they have caused long lines in some counties, but maintains it’s an administrative problem.
“You don’t fix administrative problems by turning people away from the polls,” she says. “You just don’t do that.”
McCulloch wasn’t the only high-profile Democrat to oppose the measure. Governor Steve Bullock came out strongly against the referendum, saying “anytime we’re making it more difficult for Montanan’s to vote, it’s a sad day in Montana.”