Changes to Voting Laws for Montana This Year

Cascade County Clerk & Recorder Rina Fontana Moore discussed changes to voting access and processing on Tuesday evening at the Great Falls Rising gathering. Rina wanted to make folks aware at the start of the evening that when a new voter is registered, everything needs to be filled out on the form. The registration form, which is a federal form, requires that the applicant be a US citizen, be 18 years old before the next election, and be in Montana for at least 30 days before an election. With the Montana driver’s license number or last four numbers of the applicant’s social security number, and the person’s name and date of birth, the Elections Office can verify the form.

The first bill addressed was HB 176 (Close of Late Registration). The original bill was going to set the close to Friday at 5 pm before the election, but it was amended to Monday at noon. Governor Gianforte signed the bill on April 19th, making it effective immediately. With school elections being about two weeks away, election officials had to readvertise this change for the upcoming election. It was expensive. This year’s legislature said this bill would help the election clerks, but was against the wishes of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders and the will of the voters (by previous ballot initiative).

Another topic of great interest was SB 169 (Generally Revised Voter ID Laws). Before this legislation, a voter at the polls could have used anything for identification. All that was required was the ID had to match what was in the system (voter address). Now, a Montana driver’s license, a Montana ID card, a military ID, a tribal picture ID. a passport or a concealed weapons permit are now the only single form of ID accepted. You cannot use a voter registration card anymore. If you don’t have one of the IDs above, then you need to produce two items that prove where you live, such as a utility bill, bank statement, car title, etc. Student IDs also cannot be used anymore.

Both HB 176 and SB 169 are currently being challenged in court.

As a side note about voter registration cards: even though they cannot be used as identification for voting purposes, the election officials are required by law to send them out to voters. Rina mentioned that they spent $140,000 last year in Cascade County just on postage.

Another bill touched on voter list maintenance. It used to be done every other year, but it is now required to do it every year. Rina felt this was redundant since federal and state elections are only done every other year.

One of the good changes that came about was that ballot processing can start early. Ballots will be opened on Thursday and Friday before election, taken out of envelopes, flattened and placed in boxes and sealed. They are held under tight security through the process and then are moved to the Montana Expo Center on Monday. One of the two counting machines Cascade County has is tested and zeroed Monday morning, then counting can begin. The machines are secured at the end of the day and counting begins again Tuesday morning. As has happened before this bill was passed, the entire process is logged and verified.

Rina reported that there was no fraud reported in the State of Montana for this past election. The video below includes her entire presentation. It was a very lively discussion. Great Falls Rising thanks Rina for a very informative night.

Categories: Elections

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