March 2, 2011
CONTACT INFORMATION: Terri McCoy, (406) 444-2807
Voting is a Montana Value
by Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch
When the Montana Legislature meets in Helena every two years, it is not unusual to hear some exaggerations. Embellishments often get made in the midst of a heated debate. However, this year has seen a disturbing uptick in the number of misleading and false allegations about elections and voting in Montana – including extreme and irresponsible claims about voter fraud, voting rights, and voter protection.
The long term effect of what’s being said about elections in Montana is dangerous. The onslaught of careless and unsubstantiated remarks threatens fair, honest, and accurate elections across Montana because it diminishes the people’s trust in the election system.
When people believe that elections are not fair, they’re less likely to vote.
The truth is that Montana has some of the best run, and most secure, elections in the country. Voting is a Montana value. That’s why our common sense voting laws empower voter rights, not weaken them. As a state, we have a proud tradition and history of strong voter participation. We often lead the way in making sure that all of our citizens can cast a ballot.
Along with your County Clerks and Election Administrators, Montanans take the threat of voter fraud very seriously. Voter fraud is a state and federal offense, and those who believe they’ve witnessed voter fraud in any way have a citizen responsibility to immediately report the offense to the proper authorities.
But in the last two months, some in the current Legislature are falsely alleging voter fraud as a smokescreen to take some negative steps that will make it harder for eligible Montanans to vote in an election. Bills have already been proposed that would restrict voter registration and identification requirements for voting.
At the same time, a bipartisan Vote-By-Mail bill that would have increased voter participation and saved over $2 million in taxpayer money was suspiciously scuttled at the last minute because of politics and scare tactics.
At the heart of these irresponsible legislative efforts has been a push to question the motivation of voters and make it difficult for so called “less informed” voters to cast a ballot. These arguments are out of place and out of line.
It is not the job of your Legislature to attack or question your motivation as a Montana voter. Likewise, no one ever has a right to judge whether or not you are an “informed voter.” Voting is a constitutional right. Rather than make it harder to vote, we all have a responsibility to ensure that every eligible Montanan has the opportunity to cast a ballot.
In Montana, you can currently register to vote up until 8:00 PM on Election Day. Since this law was passed in 2005, nearly 43,000 eligible Montana voters have used the process to exercise their right to vote. Late registration is not unique to our state, as both Wyoming and Idaho have had almost identical laws in place for much longer than Montana.
Proposals to put unnecessary restrictions on voter registration clearly support the notion of bureaucracy over democracy. If the Legislature is successful in restricting voter registration, the end result will ultimately turn eligible Montana voters away at the polls.
It’s irresponsible for anyone to allege voter fraud based on gossip, hearsay, or political posturing. It’s even more extreme when some Legislators use those false claims of voter fraud as a sham excuse to propose unnecessary and reckless bureaucratic hurdles that will make it harder for you and other eligible Montanans to vote.
We all have a responsibility to protect the elections process across Montana. The responsible way to do that is through common sense and honest discussions about elections - with arguments based on fact instead of fiction and fear. Our Democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people…,” meaning all of the people, and not just some of the people.
Voting is a freedom we share as Americans. Never should anyone infringe upon this freedom.