Montana Governor Greg Gianforte Signs Election Integrity Bills into Law

GREAT FALLS, MT - MAY 23: Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters during a campaign meet and greet at Lions Park on May 23, 2017 in Great Falls, Montana. Greg Gianforte is campaigning throughout Montana ahead of a May 25 special election to fill Montana's single congressional seat. …
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Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) signed two election integrity bills into law on Monday.

One bill, SB 169, “require[s] additional identifying information from those who use a student ID to register to vote,” NBC Montana reported.

“SB 169 could be the most important bill I ever carry in my legislative career. Election integrity is truly the rock, the cornerstone of our nation, and voter ID is a key component in protecting the integrity of Montana elections,” state Sen. Mike Cuffe (R-Eureka), the sponsor of the bill, said after Gianforte signed it into law.

The Montana State Senate passed SB 169 in a 31 to 19 vote. It passed the Montana House of Representatives in a 66 to 34 vote.

The second bill, HB 176, specifies that “Montana voters will now be required to register no later than noon on the day before an election,” Montana Free Press noted.

HB 176 cleared the Montana State Senate with a 31 to 19 vote and the Montana House of Representatives with a 65 to 35 vote.

“HB 176 respects local election officials and Montana voters by ensuring that election day is focused solely on voting and counting ballots. Voters can still register up until the day before the election. This will help us conduct elections more efficiently while reducing long lines and voter frustration at the polls,” state Rep. Sharon Greef (R-Florence) said of the law, which she sponsored.

Gianforte praised the sponsors of the bills he signed into law Monday.

“Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation. These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come. I thank Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, Senator Cuffe, and Representative Greef for their efforts and leadership to ensure our elections are fair and free of fraud,” Gianforte said in a statement his office released shortly after he signed the bills.

Critics on the left objected to the new laws, and threatened legal action, as Montana Free Press reported:

Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice, said ending same-day registration is a “slap in the face” to Montanans and signals a “lack of trust” among elected officials in an electorate that approved same-day voter registration as a ballot measure in 2004. Sunchild called the new voter ID requirement a “modern-day poll tax” for its requirement that voters pay for a government-issued ID in order to vote, a financial barrier for low-income Montanans. Western Native Voice is one of several groups that asked Gianforte to veto SB 169, informing him in a letter that it would “undoubtedly head straight to the courts” if it became law. Other opponents of the bill included the ACLU of Montana, Forward Montana and the Montana Public Interest Research Group, or MontPIRG.

Speaking to Montana Free Press Monday, Sunchild said Western Native Voice and other voting rights advocates are now discussing legal action to challenge the new laws. Regarding HB 176 in particular, Sunchild said another avenue could be to take the issue back to voters in the form of another ballot initiative to ask whether their view on same-day registration has changed since 2004.

Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen disagreed with objections critics on the left have raised to the two laws.

“Montana sets the standard for elections across the country. However, there is always room for improvement, and voter ID and voter registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections,” Jacobsen said Monday.

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