Congress’ Attempt to Open Up Voting Access Stalls

Eric Tegethoff | Public News Service
The Freedom to Vote Act would make a number of changes to the law including creating a public holiday for election day. Photo Credit: yavdat / Adobe Stock

HELENA, Mont. — States such as Montana have passed legislation some advocates believe could make it harder to vote.

Meanwhile, measures at the federal level to reverse this trend have stalled. Four bills addressing voting rights have been blocked by Senate filibuster this year, including two in the last month co-sponsored by Sen. John Tester, D-Mont.

Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Center, said the measures are important because the federal government is the final protector of the vote.

“Both those bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, need to be passed for us to make sure that we can deliver on the promise of America, which is everybody has access to the ballot and a right to vote and have their vote counted,” Brandon asserted.

Across the country, some state lawmakers argued tighter laws are needed to ensure the security and integrity of the vote. Republicans have accused the measures in Congress of being an attempt by the federal government to take over elections nationwide.

Brandon pointed out the two bills recently stopped would strike down two measures in particular the Montana Legislature passed this year, including restrictions on ballot collecting, which is seen as an important way for Native Americans to cast their ballots, and changes to voter ID laws requiring additional identification if someone tries to register with a student ID, for instance.

Brandon said another measure not directly addressed in the federal bills is Montana’s end to Election Day voter registration.

“If there’s a problem with your registration or if somebody messed up in terms of where your records are, you can fix that on election day,” Brandon explained. “That’s the ultimate fail-safe for a voter that gets stuck because there’s some wrong information or something was put in the wrong place.”

Montana granted same-day registration in 2005 but repealed it this year. Currently, 19 states allow voters to register on the day of the election.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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