HELENA – A House committee passed a bill Monday that would create a ballot initiative that would prohibit the collection of a voter’s ballot to take it to a polling place, election office or the post office.
Senate Bill 352 would create the “Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act” and would put the issue to voters in November 2018. The bill provides exceptions for family members, caregivers and acquaintances who are authorized to pick up ballots.
The bill passed out of the committee on party lines and will now be in the full House for debate.
Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, supported the bill and said voting is a fundamental right.
“We need to protect the integrity of our elections and voting process in every way that we possibly can,” Manzella said.
Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, opposed the bill and said if Montanans are giving someone their ballots, they should already know and trust them.
“I think this bill — I just think it’s unnecessary,” Morigeau said. “I think it has the opposite effect — that it doesn’t protect the vulnerable,” Morigeau said.
Rep. Jenny Eck, D-Helena, agreed with Morigeau and said tampering with another voter’s ballot is already in the state’s law.
“If you misbehave and do something illegal with someone’s ballot, then you can be prosecuted for that,” Eck said. “I’m not sure what we’re trying to address here. I think we need to continue to work to do everything we can to make it easier to vote, not harder — this bill would make it harder to vote.”
Eck said some people, like students who have multiple jobs, might not have time to go to a polling place. She said people have a choice to hand off their ballot or not, and they should have that discretion.
Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, supported the bill and took issue with the number of students testifying in favor of the bill, saying they claim they do not have enough time to go to polling places, but can take time to testify on bills.
Usher said they don’t understand going to a polling place used to be a requirement.
“I didn’t feel that they testified from their heart that they understood the importance to vote, and how important it is to have that right,” Usher said.
Freddy Monares 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.