When the 2005 Legislature passed the law that created Election Day voter registration in Montana, I was proud of our state, our Legislature and our bipartisan coalition as we placed a commitment to democratic ideals ahead of partisanship.
SB 302 passed the House by a vote of 89-8. The final vote in the Senate was 42-8. It was hardly controversial. Included among those who supported it was the current Republican president of the Senate Jeff Essman; the Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson, who provided invaluable input and counsel; and Rep. (now Senator) Alan Olson. Joining these prominent conservatives were groups like the League of Women Voters, Montana Conservation Voters, the MEA-MFT and the Montana AFL-CIO. There was nary a partisan whisper in the discussion about this bill that made it easier for all Montanans to participate in electing our public officials.
We believed then, that it is better for our democracy if more of our citizens vote, and not less. We believed in that legislative session that our government can better serve all of us when more of us are heard through the exercise of the most fundamental of our political rights: The right to cast a meaningful and effective vote. We all agreed on these simple but profound principles.
Many have noted that since its passage, tens of thousands of Montanans have taken advantage of Election Day registration. True, there have occasionally been lines at the election offices. Perhaps this has been an inconvenience to some county election officials. But with due respect for the great job that our election officials perform, this modest administrative inconvenience should not form the basis for repealing a law that has made our democracy work better for all of us.
So it is now discouraging to see how partisanship has been injected into this issue. Some out-of-state people and organizations consider it good politics to make it more difficult to cast a vote. Why some of my conservative friends have swallowed this anti-democratic nonsense is simply beyond my understanding.
Let’s return to a nonpartisan commitment to our democracy and reject LR-126. It will benefit all of us.
Jon Ellingson was the Montana Senate majority leader in 2005, He was the sole sponsor of SB 302, providing for Election Day voter registration.