Last November, for the first time ever, Montanans who failed to register to vote before Election Day could show up at their polling place, register and cast a ballot. Those who put off registering, didn’t know any better or just simply forgot weren’t left out in the cold.
But now that the Montana Legislature is back at work following its mid-session break, the Senate is set to take up a bill that would roll back the deadline for late voter registration. Under HB 281, late registration would close on the Friday before the election.
In a recent op-ed column in the Billings Gazette, Secretary of State Brad Johnson wrote in support of the bill claiming Election Day voter registration “encourages procrastination, discourages informed voting, and creates chaos for election workers.”
“I think that’s utter B.S.,” says Kimberly Pappas, a University of Montana student who registered on Election Day and organized last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts on campus. “I think what same-day voter registration does is encourage more people to vote.”
Pappas, an Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM) senator and board member for Forward Montana, a progressive grass-roots political organization geared toward young Montanans, also isn’t buying Johnson’s rhetoric about overburdened poll workers.
“I suggest staffing more people on Election Day before I would suggest telling people not to vote,” she says.
Erica Henderson, who also registered on Election Day, is offended by the suggestion that same-day registration is somehow bad for democracy. Between her schoolwork, her job as an ASUM senator and her volunteer work, which included dozens of hours spent calling voters weeks leading up to the election, Henderson says registering to vote slipped her mind.
“A lot of students I called thought they couldn’t vote because they weren’t registered ahead of time,” Henderson recalls. “It was nice to be able to tell them they could still vote.”
And the numbers supported the new policy: Election Day turnout last year jumped nearly 10 percent from the previous two non-presidential elections to 63 percent, and the majority of that increase is attributed to voters who registered on Election Day.
“Politicians are always saying that people need to get more involved in politics,” says Henderson. “To take same-day registration away is irresponsible.”
We couldn’t agree more