When it comes to Election Day, Minnesota and Montana are very different animals. Despite its size, most of Minnesota’s increasingly diverse population resides in the state’s major cities, while three-quarters of Montana voters live in a county with fewer than 100,000 residents. And while Montana is solidly red in presidential elections, Minnesota hasn’t thrown its weight behind a Republican since Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972.
But the two states have at least one thing in common: Same Day Registration. If you live in Minnesota or Montana, you can’t be turned away from the polls just because you missed an arbitrary registration deadline or find yourself left off voter rolls because of some computer glitch.
Given its success in their home states, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, want to expand SDR to the rest of the country.
They have introduced the Same Day Registration Act, which would require each state to allow voters to register on Election Day. Rep. Keith Ellison, another Minnesotan, is leading the charge on a similar bill in the House of Representatives.
Klobuchar and Tester have a strong case to make. High turnout is a common theme in the handful of states that allow Same Day Registration. Minnesota has notched the highest turnout among states in the last two presidential elections, and Montana easily beat the national average.
In fact, in a national survey of Americans age 18-29, the Black Youth Project found that more than half of non-voters failed to participate in the 2012 election simply because they were not registered to vote. The impact was larger than the notoriously long lines or the general distaste for politics that keeps some individuals away from the polls.
The bill is also an interesting political move for Klobuchar and Tester, who must take at least a little pleasure from thumbing their nose at the attempts of conservatives in their home states to limit access to the ballot.
Montana state Rep. Ted Washburn is pushing a bill that would eliminate Same Day Registration in his state – even though more than 28,000 Montanans have used the service since it was established in 2005.
And in Minnesota last year, conservative groups promoted a Constitutional amendment requiring voters to show an ID when they vote. The amendment could have spelled the end for Same Day Registration – a consequence of the time-consuming verification process that would be included.
Minnesota voters wisely rejected that threat to their voting rights, and one can only hope Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock will do the same if Washburn’s bill reaches his desk in Helena. Then again, if Klobuchar and Tester have their way, Congress will stick up for voters and put an end to the debate once and for all.