Editor’s note: In a guest column last week Forward Montana’s Matt Singer wrote about the benefits of Montana’s law allowing same-day election registration and critcised a bill moving through the Montana Legislature that would close registration two days before Election Day. In the following guest column, the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tom McGilvray, R-Billings, defends House Bill 281, saying it still creates “the most progressive voter registration law of all 50 states.”
I think we can all remember times when a company has been more concerned about numbers than the quality of what was produced. We intuitively know that product quality must be balanced with the quantity for a product or process to be successful.
My sponsorship of HB 281 which moves the last day to register to vote back to the Friday before Election Day strikes the balance between quality and quantity. The integrity or our elections should be as important to us as the number of individuals voting in our elections. Neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other.
On Election Day 2006 we had about 4,000 people register (out of over 400,000 who voted) to vote on Election Day. About 2,600 of these were new voters. The fact that these people voted on Election Day is good! The fact that it put the Election Day process in chaos was bad. Election workers were swamped with lines that lasted until midnight in some places. Computer databases crashed and allegations of election law violations – some witnessed by county attorneys, others by elected county clerks and recorders – surfaced in Montana communities.
It’s that last fact that’s most serious. If late registration leads to illegal electioneering, or even the perception of it, then it is risking our democratic process.
If signed into law, House Bill 281 will allow the most progressive voter registration law of all 50 states. All but seven states close voter registration 30 days before Election Day. With one exception, the states that allow registration on Election Day also close voter registration 30 days before Election Day and then have registration open up on Election Day only. HB 281 would allow about 28 days more for registration than any other state. That is good. The bill would close registration for the two days before and on Election Day. That will allow election administrators to print accurate voter registration lists, get the lists to polling stations and then focus on running an accurate, fair and efficient Election Day process. That is also good, and why the Montana House has already passed the bill and why every election administrator in the state is supporting the bill.
I believe Montana voters want a balance that is responsible. I think that we can all be responsible enough to register any other day during the year but these two days before and on Election Day. Get out the vote groups will need to move their push to get people registered back a few days. Procrastinators will just have a different day for the deadline and do as they always do, get it done on the last day.
In the end HB 281 drives the maximum number of days to register, more than any other state, and also preserves election integrity: the important balance between the quality of the election and quantity of voters. Urge your Senators to pass HB 281, and the Governor to sign the bill. This bill will produce an election law that preserves the integrity of the process and one which produces high voter registration numbers.
Tom McGillvray represents HD 50 in Billings. Rep. McGillvray is a Republican Whip in the House of Representatives.
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