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Montana Voters Keep Same-Day Registration

Damon L. Daniels

Make no bones about it: Election Day 2014 was not a good day for progressives. But the overall debacle did include one silver lining, as the people of Montana fought back a repeal of Same-Day Registration.

Legislative Referendum 126 (LR-126), which would have cut off the voter registration deadline from when the polls closed on Election Day to the Friday before, met resounding defeat upon being placed into the hands of Montanans. Fifty-seven percent of voters opposed the repeal of Montana’s SDR program compared to 43 percent who favored the referendum.

In an Explainer outlining the illogical and unproven arguments of removing SDR, Demos cites earlier polling that delivers the same message: Montana voters view SDR as a benefit as opposed to hinderance.

Montana’s Same‑Day Registration fight is relatively new. Detractors’ first salvo against SDR began in 2011, with the passage of HB 180 by the state legislature. Then‑Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed that bill, but in 2013, a similar SDR-repeal measure was introduced in House; its language was used for a companion bill in the Senate. This bill also passed, and was thereafter also vetoed, this time by Governor Steve Bullock. LR-126 was subsequently born out of a desire to circumvent gubernatorial veto power, in the hopes that voters would agree that the reform caused longer lines and too much overall confusion at the polls.

The problem with the sentiment behind LR-126, however, was that Montanans had already made it clear that they felt differently about Same‑Day Registration. Polling showed that 70 percent of respondents believed SDR to be necessary to protect voter participation in Montana, with 66 percent also believing that SDR protects Montana’s democracy overall. More than 28,000 Montanans have benefitted from SDR since it became available in 2006.

Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch perhaps states it best: “There is no reason to change a law that works, especially when that law secures your fundamental right to actively participate in our democracy.”