House Bill 276 was more straightforward, requiring that voters be registered by noon on the Monday before Election Day. Montana was previously among 19 other states that allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day, including neighboring Wyoming and Idaho, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A previous attempt by Republicans to end same-day registration was voted down in a 2014 referendum. Voters rejected the legislative referendum, proposing to set the registration deadline on the Friday before the election, 57.1% to 42.9%.
“A lot has happened since 2014,” said Cuffe, who carried the bill in the Senate. “I don’t take citizen initiatives lightly, [but] there’s been several elections since then.”
For election administrators who must implement those changes, education is key to preventing voters from having to find out on Election Day that they won’t be able to vote.
In the 2020 general election, held by mail in most of the state because of public health concerns, 3,352 voters registered to vote on Election Day, according to information provided to a committee by the Secretary of State’s office in January. In the 2018 midterms, 8,053 voters submitted their registration on Election Day. For the 2016 presidential election, that number was 12,055.
Regina Plettenberg, legislative chair for the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders, said her organization will wait until the court cases are resolved before issuing guidance to county election administrators. Two lawsuits, one brought by the state Democratic Party and another brought by several Native American tribes and indigenous rights groups, are currently challenging the law ending Election Day registration. The Democrats’ lawsuit also takes aim at the voter ID bill.