Commentary - January 17th, 2014
1:34 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

Election Protection

I love election day.

When I was kid, I loved election day because our elementary school gym was transformed into a hub of activity, full of strangers ducking into and out of fabric booths.  When I was old enough to vote myself, I loved knowing that many races and issues I would vote on were decided here in Montana by just a few hundred votes, making my vote particularly important.  I loved election day when I lived in New York City, where you vote by pulling a big metal lever.  That lever made a very satisfying clunking sound, as if the lever was connected to a chute somewhere that would drop open and send the candidate of your choice sliding into office. 

I love the late night waiting for election results, glued to a television, refreshing the feed on the Secretary of State’s website over and over and over.  And I was so excited to vote in the 2012 primary, when I took my three-month-old son into a fabric booth in an elementary school gym in our own neighborhood and passed on the family love of elections for the first time.

I love election day.

So I take it very seriously when decision-makers here in Montana want to change how we vote.

Last year, legislators placed two issues on the ballot.  These are called legislative referenda, or LR, and they’re each given a number.  LR 126 would dismantle our election-day voter registration system.  LR 127 would change our primary election system to what’s called a “top-two” primary.  Both are unnecessary and bad ideas.

Montana’s election system is something we can be proud of.  It protects our freedom to vote and makes it possible to have our voice heard in our democratic process.  But 126 and 127 would change this system, attempting to fix something that isn’t even broken.

Let’s start with LR 126.  126 would end our system of Election Day registration, something that has worked well in Montana for nearly a decade.  Election Day registration is a safeguard that means if you find yourself unregistered on Election Day – whether by error, because you moved, or for any other reason – you are still able to register and vote at the same time.  This is particularly important for seniors, veterans who have served out of state, people who live in rural Montana, low-income folks, and others.

So imagine that back in 2012 you moved.  You go into the DMV to update your drivers’ license and update your voter registration at the same time.  You walk away feeling proud for taking care of business and don’t give it another thought.  But come election day, your name is not on the voter rolls. Maybe there was a computer error.  Maybe someone, somewhere, misspelled your last name.  For whatever reason, you are not on the rolls, despite updating your registration.  In Montana, Election Day registration is the safeguard that protects against exactly this situation.  You can go down to the county elections office, fill out a new registration card, and vote at the same time. 

Now for LR 127.  127 would end Montana’s existing system of primary elections.  Right now, when you vote in a primary election, you decide which party primary you want to vote in – Democrat or Republican, for example – and then you vote for candidates competing in that primary.  The winners of the primary go on to the ballot for the general election and voters choose between them.  Often, we have three or more candidates for a single office in the general election because primaries aren’t limited and voters deserve that choice.

127 would create what’s called a “top-two primary.”  That means that only the top two candidates from the primary election go on to the general election ballot.  It takes away our independent voice by limiting our choices in the general election to just two candidates.  And, as if it isn’t confusing enough already, it repeals so much existing law that it will be tied up in court for decades, costing Montana taxpayers millions of dollars.

Montana’s election system works well.  We have one of the highest percentages of voter turn out in the country.  Montanans take pride in a system that allows everyone the chance to voice their opinions and have their vote counted.  LRs 126 and 127 are unnecessary, costly, bad ideas.  When the time comes in November, we all need to exercise our right to vote NO on 126 and 127.

I’m Sarah Howell with Montana Women Vote.  Thanks for listening and have a terrific weekend.

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