Montana college students would still be able to use their school IDs when registering to vote and casting ballots, as part of a major revision to a controversial elections bill passed by a House committee Wednesday.
The amendment to Senate Bill 169 effectively removed one of the most contentious elements of the legislation, while also expanding acceptable forms of identification for voters to register and cast ballots.
The bill, part of a package of “election integrity” measures requested by Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, has been criticized by Native American organizations, liberal groups and Democrats as aimed at disenfranchising students and other voters less likely to be able to obtain photo identification.
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Republicans, who have largely supported the voter ID bill, have argued that it would beef up the security of Montana’s elections.
The changes, introduced in the House State Administration Committee Wednesday by Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, allow voters to register with photo ID issued by a Montana college or university, while also adding concealed carry permits to the list of acceptable ID. The bill already allows for registration with a Montana ID or drivers license, tribal photo ID, military ID, drivers license number or the last four digits of a social security number.
Failing those forms of ID, the bill would still require voters to come up with some other form of photo ID (like a Costco membership card), and pair it with official documentation showing their current address, such as a utility bill or bank statement.
Those changes also apply to voting, meaning voters would have to provide the same ID or information to cast ballots in person. Custer’s amendment also allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they don’t have sufficient identification at the polling place, as long as they fill out a form stating they have “a reasonable impediment to meeting the identification requirements,” including transportation, work schedule, a disability or lost or stolen ID.
Custer said she was bringing the amendment to avert a likely court battle over the proposed photo ID requirements, although she acknowledged that the Secretary of State’s office was lukewarm on the changes.
“I don’t say they’re jumping for joy, but there was no way this bill could fly when it was going to go immediately to court, in my book,” Custer said. “… I just couldn’t see spending taxpayer money to go to court when we knew immediately it was going to happen from the testimony.”
The amendment passed 18-1, with Democratic Rep. Jessica Karjala of Billings as the only “no” vote. She continued to oppose the bill after the amendment was added, yet said that the changes “make the bill a better bill.”
“Essentially what we’re looking at is a poll tax,” Karjala said. She added, “When you think that some people don’t have the money to be able to afford a driver’s license, a Costco card, a college ID, I think we’re putting barriers in front of people that basically would end up being too poor to vote.”
The committee voted to send the bill to the House floor on a 12-7 party-line vote. The Senate passed it last month 31-19, also on a party-line vote. If SB 269 is passed in its current form by the House, the Senate would need to vote again on whether to accept the amendments.