By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – The Montana Legislature is taking a break this weekend after passing more than a dozen bills Thursday. The Legislature has only two scheduled weeks left in the 90-day session.
The bills tackle issues like giving loans to the owners of coal-fired power plant units, raising production caps for small breweries, and asking voters if they want to limit who can collect ballots.
Senate Bill 352, or the Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act, would ask voters if they want to prevent certain people from knowingly collecting someone else’s ballot. Ballot handler exceptions would be someone like an election official, a family member, or an acquaintance, as defined in the bill. Once the ballot is delivered, the handler would need to sign a registry defining their relationship to the voter.
In a debate on the bill in the House Wednesday, Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, said whether or not people believe voter fraud is happening, “We should still be trying to do everything we can to make sure there is no questions that our election process is absolutely sacred.”
Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said this would be voter suppression at its worst.
“This bill is about creating barriers where none are needed, or none need to exist, because our system works as it is,” he said. “This bill hurts voters.”
The bill passed the House by a slim vote of 51-49. Since it’s a referendum that passed the House and Senate, it will now go to the Secretary of State’s office, and will likely be on the 2018 ballot.
Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.