Hundreds of Missoula County residents last summer spent hours in line with a paper ticket clutched in their hand, hoping to register a motor vehicle or complete title work at the treasurer’s office.
Many had to return the next morning due to the lines.
Raph Graybill, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, stopped in Missoula on Friday to announce his plans to tackle that issue and others if elected to office in November.
“It’s not the most traditional left to right political issue, but it’s one people care a lot about,” Graybill told the Missoula Current. “Over the past four years, Montanans have had to wait quite a bit longer to get appointments to get licenses and to title their vehicles.”
Graybill, an attorney originally from Great Falls who worked for the U.S. Court of Appeals on the Ninth Circuit, said the wait times around the state dates back to the 2017 Legislature, which made deep cuts to the Motor Vehicle Division.
In Missoula at least, booking an appointment to renew a license or title a vehicle can be weeks in the making. Graybill said it comes down to resources and an antiquated system.
“The online renewal that has been made available because of COVID should be permanent,” he said. “This is something I worked on at the governor’s office and authorized for MDT through a gubernatorial directive to reduce in-person contact. It’s working well. Low and behold, we can do this online like so many other states.”
Graybill said he also has heard from active duty service members who are Montana residents and have had trouble renewing their registration while deployed. He said the titling and renewal process should be offered on line.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do this as well,” he said. “The counties like it, the dealers like it and MDT likes it as well.”
When the system bogged down last summer, leading to widespread aggravation in Missoula, a spokesperson from the Montana Attorney General’s Office blamed a “hardware issue in the storage area network” of a software system known as the Montana Enhanced Registration and Licensing Information Network.
Graybill described the system, otherwise known as MERLIN, as antiquated and needing replacement.
“This is Day One stuff for me,” he said. “It’s not the most traditional political issue, but it is an issue of how well government serves us as citizens. We know we can do better because other states have figured out how to cut their lines down.”
Graybill said he would also approach the Legislature with a bill to eliminate the REAL ID tax. All Montana residents will need to secure a REAL ID or a passport in order to board a plane by next October.
Graybill said the REAL ID tax in Montana is $50.
“If Montana’s have to get a special federal ID to get on an airplane, we shouldn’t make people pay extra for that,” Graybill said. “That’s upside down. We didn’t vote for it, and I don’t think Montana should have to shoulder another tax to get on a plane.”