A Citizen's Right to Vote Shall Not Be Denied or Abridged

I was interviewed Monday by our local CBS affiliate, KBZK in Bozeman, on the vote-by-mail bill that failed in the House last week. I mentioned this in my previous blog post: in Gallatin Valley alone, an overwhelming majority of ballots were cast by mail--sixty-eight percent--in the last primary election, and 55% in the last general election. The number of permanent absentee voters--mail-in ballot voters--increases all the time.

After second reading on the bill, when the bill is debated and explained on the floor of the House, 57 representatives voted for the bill. But overnight, the Republican majority in the House wood-shedded (strong-armed their Republican representatives) to vote against the Republican-sponsored bill, and the next day, on third reading (the vote that determines the fate of a bill), 57 representatives votes against it and it died in the House. It will not move forward.

The story is posted online here: http://www.ktvq.com/news/montana-legislature-debates-voter-issues/

and here it is in text.

Montana Legislature debates voter issues
Posted: Feb 1, 2011 7:54 AM by Associated Press

BOZEMAN - The mail-in ballot bill was killed in the Montana House last week, so we decided to take a look at all sides of the debate.

The mail-in ballot is just one of many voter issues being discussed in the legislative session. We spoke with three Montanans who have strong opinions on voting to get their take on the happenings in Helena.

Bozeman Democrat JP Pomnichowski told us that voting isn't something you need to earn, it's a natural born right. And this is why she thinks mail-in ballots are a good thing. She said they give people more time to consider the issues and make informed decisions.

But, Conservative Carl Graham disagreed, saying that voting isn't about sitting on the couch and checking a box.

"Rights come with responsibilities. If you're going to exercise your rights you take on certain responsibilities and that responsibility is to inform yourself and be a responsible part in our Democratic process," he added.

The mail-in ballot bill would have made all the state's main elections mandatory mail-in only. Similar bills were introduced to the legislature in 2007 and 2009, but they did not pass.

Election administrator Charlotte Mills worked on the committee for the 2011 bill and said their goal was to simply increase voter turn-out. Some 5,000 more people are voting by mail this year in Gallatin County alone.

Mills explained why she thinks the bill didn't make it through.

"I think there is a lot of mistrust from both sides of the fence if we did a mail-in ballot for 2012 that we might mess up or some sort of fraud might happen."

A bill which would limit the time period in which someone could register to vote is still up for debate in Helena. The current law allows someone to register up until 8:00 pm on the day of the election and the proposed measure would limit this to 30 days prior.

Pomnichowski told us why she is against it.

"Just because someone moves here and doesn't remember to register to vote along with buying a house, starting a job, getting electricity on, that doesn't mean they lose their civil right to participate in a Democracy."


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