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Amid Voting Rights Setbacks, Good News in Montana

While many states restricted voting in this year’s election, Montana voters rejected a ballot measure that would have eliminated same-day registration.

  • Sophie Schuit
November 11, 2014

Montana voters last Tues­day soundly rejec­ted a ballot meas­ure that would have elim­in­ated same-day regis­tra­tion. As states across the coun­try move to restrict voting, the Montana result offers a ray of hope for advoc­ates look­ing to improve the elec­tion process.

It is no wonder Montana voters defeated the initi­at­ive. Same-day regis­tra­tion prevents voters from being disen­fran­chised because of earlier mistakes in the elec­tion process. Allow­ing voters to register at the polls on Elec­tion Day also gives get-out-the-vote groups addi­tional oppor­tun­it­ies to mobil­ize and engage voters. Voters who live in the major­ity of states without this fail-safe option, however, faced confu­sion and diffi­culty in obtain­ing regu­lar ballots, and many were preven­ted from cast­ing a ballot at all if they did not register before the dead­line, which could be as much as 30 days before the elec­tion

With same-day regis­tra­tion secure, the Montana legis­lature should consider another feature of 21st century voting — the abil­ity to register online. By allow­ing voters to register to vote and update their regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion online, this modern tool would alle­vi­ate burdens on county clerks on the front-end of the process and cut down on Elec­tion Day lines.

Online voter regis­tra­tion is noth­ing new. It is simply a system that allows voters to register — and to check and update their regis­tra­tion records — through a secure and access­ible online portal. Twenty-four states, includ­ing nearby Wash­ing­ton State, currently have, or are work­ing to imple­ment, online voter regis­tra­tion with great success. States that have online voter regis­tra­tion attest that it helps to minim­ize the admin­is­trat­ive burden and costs on state elec­tion offi­cials, and keeps voter lines moving on Elec­tion Day. What’s more, online regis­tra­tion is a modern, user-friendly, and cost-effect­ive way to ensure more voters register and keep their regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion up to date. If a voter can bank and shop online, they should be able to register to vote online too.

Since Montana already has a same-day regis­tra­tion system that allows voters to provide their signa­tures at the polls on Elec­tion Day, online voter regis­tra­tion could be designed to allow a broader audi­ence of users to bene­fit. For example, many online regis­tra­tion systems are limited to citizens who already have a signa­ture on file with a state agency. Because elec­tion offi­cials already know how to process regis­tra­tions when voters provide their signa­ture at the polls on Elec­tion Day, Montana’s online system can go further than this and reach more eligible citizens.

Online regis­tra­tion also makes sense in a state like Montana, where voters may live many miles away from the nearest county audit­or’s office, and may only want to make that trip once — on Elec­tion Day itself.

With reforms like online voter regis­tra­tion, Montana’s regis­tra­tion process will be more user-friendly and allow voters to avoid the head­aches asso­ci­ated with the ramshackle pen-and-paper system.

So when the legis­lat­ive session begins on Janu­ary 5th, Montana lawmakers should build on the voter’s strong support for same-day regis­tra­tion by enact­ing online regis­tra­tion that makes sign­ing up to vote in Montana freer, fairer, and more access­ible to all.

(Photo: Flickr/VoxEfx)