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Montana House Passes Bill to End Election-Day Registration

Published on February 2, 2013, by in General.

On February 1, the Montana House passed HB 30, which ends election-day registration. The new deadline for registration would be the Friday before the election. See this story. The vote was 60-38, which is less than two-thirds support. Assuming the bill passes the Senate, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock will probably veto the bill just as the past Governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer, vetoed a similar bill in 2011.

On January 31, the Montana House passed HB 120 by a vote of 70-28. That is the bill that makes three ballot access improvements: (1) expanding who can run for President and Vice-President as an independent; (2) moving the petition deadline for non-presidential independent candidates from March to May; (3) letting all qualified parties hold a primary if there is a contest for any office. HB 120 is the Secretary of State’s omnibus election law bill and has many other provisions unrelated to ballot access.

3 Responses

  1. David

    Governor Bullock was the Attorney General in 2011. The last term limited governor took care of the veto in 2011. So what kind of contest of candidates in one party, would call for a primary? I imagine, it would be broken down by either state wide or county?

  2. #1, thanks for the correction on who the last Governor was. I will fix that.

    The part of the bill on primaries fixes the existing law, which says a ballot-qualified party can’t have a primary unless it has candidates running in over half the partisan offices. As a result of the existing law, the Libertarian Party was told in 2012 that because it had two candidates for US Senate, the party couldn’t choose between them with its own primary, but instead both would be on the November ballot. The bill says anytime a party has two candidates for the same office it gets a primary (if it was already a ballot-qualified party).

  3. Jim Riley

    #1 Montana has a Pick-A-Party primary, where a voter in private selects the party ballot they wish to vote. To preserve privacy, each party’s ballot must have the same appearance (size, paper, etc.). So if there were 5000 voters in a county, there would have to be 5000 Democratic, 5000 Republican, 5000 Libertarian, etc. ballots printed, since it couldn’t be anticipated that only 25 Libertarian ballots would be used, and every voter would have to be given one ballot for each party.

    So the idea was that if a party only had a single candidate filing for a few offices, there wouldn’t be a ballot printed for that party, and it would have no effect on the nominations.

    The intended conditions for _having_ a primary ballot were:
    (1) Candidates for 50% of more of offices; OR
    (2) A contested primary for at least one office.

    A few years ago, as part of an omnibus election bill, the provision was rewritten as the condition for _not having_ a primary ballot, and the author didn’t understand De Morgan’s laws.

    The law was written to say that no primary was necessary if:
    (1) Candidates for less than 50% of offices; OR
    (2) No contested primaries.

    The OR should have been an AND. That is you don’t print a ballot if there are just a few candidates, AND there are no contested primaries. The OR meant that there would be no ballot printed if either condition or both was met.

    When the omnibus election bill was having a legislative hearing, one of the legislators asked for an explanation and was reassured by someone from the Secretary of State that it was simply to prevent unnecessary ballots from being printed – without carefully reading what the bill actually said.

    In 2012, two candidates filed for the Libertarian nomination for US Senator. Logically, this would have required a primary to determine the party nominee. But the county election officials didn’t want to print the Libertarian ballots. The Secretary of State decided to interpret the law literally, and put out a bizarre spreadsheet showing that there was no county in the state where there were Libertarian candidates for half the offices on the ballot.

    Montana has an extreme level of home rule with regard to county offices. Offices can be made appointive or non-partisan, or can be shared with other counties. So the number of partisan offices can vary significantly depending on the county, whether the state senator is up for election, whether there are statewide elected offices, etc. The Secretary of State came to the conclusion that in no county were there Libertarian candidates for 1/2 the partisan offices. Where they had legislative candidates, there were county partisan offices they hadn’t filed for; and where they had no legislative candidates, the county offices were non-partisan. She also ruled that since there was no primary both Libertarian senatorial candidates would appear on the general election ballot, though one ultimately withdrew.

    HB 120, is another omnibus bill introduced at the request of the Secretary of State, which among its many provisions corrects the OR to an AND; and also prevents a contested election for precinct committeeman or committeewoman from triggering the printing of ballots.

    The statute says that the “election administrator” preparing “the ballot”, which I would interpret as the county election official who is actually preparing the ballot – rather than the Secretary of State.

    So if there was a contested statewide nomination, then the election officials in every county would have to prepare a ballot, since there would be a contested race on the ballot they were preparing. Otherwise, there might be contested primaries for the legislature or county offices that would confine printing to those areas only.

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