N5

Rep. Llew Jones

The discord and chaos surrounding the fall 2020 election cycle destroyed public confidence in the integrity of the election process. I have been asked by numerous constituents whether Montana elections are secure. While there is no Montana evidence of significant voter fraud, there are obvious concerns. The challenge is to address elections fraud concerns in a manner that balances ballot integrity with voting rights and accessibility. 

There are three primary areas of concern: 

1) Same day voter registration increases the potential for ballot fraud as it distracts election officials from focusing on the integrity of the vote on election day. 

2) The appropriate identification required to register and vote must be clearly defined. While requiring a picture ID sounds simple, many Montanans, in particular senior citizens that no longer drive, do not have picture IDs. 

3) The mail in ballot and signature verification process must be secure, especially in situations where the vote process is changed or modified under Executive emergency authority without legislative input. 

One of my goals this legislative session is to implement change to election laws that will enhance public confidence in the integrity of the election process.

 In 2014, Montana voters rejected Initiative LR126 that proposed ending voter registration on the Friday before the election, thus retaining same day registration. Of course, this was before the 2020 election debacle. 

The compromise I support is HB 176, which ends voter registration at noon on the day before the election. This frees election officials to focus on ballot integrity the day of the election, rather than divide their attention between registration and vote integrity. Not surprisingly, there are those that find this too restrictive, and those that feel it does not go far enough. 

There are also bills addressing the correct level of identification for voter registration. I tend to be okay with requiring a state or government issued picture ID to register if exceptions are defined such that senior citizens and others that legitimately would not have a picture ID could provide alternative identification–a balance between responsible access and the right to vote.

I personally am working on a bill that would limit the ability for Governors to drastically bend election laws when operating under emergency declaration. If my bill passes, the Governor could still propose changes to election laws in an emergency, but prior to implementing such change, the legislature will need to respond in the affirmative via a poll. This ensures state-wide input. Again, another attempt to find balance between the flexibility needed by the Governor in an emergency, and the integrity of a stable voting process.

For our style of Government to function and remain stable, a well-designed voting process that instills public confidence must exist. The right to vote is guaranteed, but easy access must be balanced with processes that guarantee integrity. The 2020 election revealed an imbalance between the democratic pillars of access and integrity. 

It is my hope that the changes delineated above will further enhance the accuracy of future elections. Montana’s elections must always be held in a manner that earns confidence and support.                                               

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