Thursday, February 24, 2011

McCulloch sets the record straight

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 9:15 AM

In a guest opinion piece distributed yesterday, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch calls out the "irresponsible" attacks leveled at Montana voters by the current Legislature. McCulloch is referring specifically to two bills that affect voter registration — one, HB 180, sponsored by Missoula Rep. Champ Edmunds, eliminates same-day legislation and another, HB 152, requires voters to use state- or tribal-issued identification when registering to vote, instead of other documents currently allowed to prove residency.

The rhetoric surrounding both bills has been hyperbolic and misleading. For instance, the bills are supposedly "aimed at reducing the chance of voter fraud in Montana" despite the fact there's no history of voter fraud in the state. Edmunds also says he's concerned about the stress same-day registration puts on country clerks and recorders, but yet he — and other supporters of his bill — shot down a mail-in voting bill. As McCulloch writes, "The onslaught of careless and unsubstantiated remarks threatens fair, honest, and accurate elections across Montana because it diminishes the people’s trust in the election system."

Here's McCulloch's piece, in its entirety:

When the Montana Legislature meets in Helena every two years, it is not
unusual to hear some exaggerations. Embellishments often get made in the
midst of a heated debate. However, this year has seen a disturbing uptick in
the number of misleading and false allegations about elections and voting in
Montana — including extreme and irresponsible claims about voter fraud,
voting rights, and voter protection.

The long term effect of what’s being said about elections in Montana is
dangerous. The onslaught of careless and unsubstantiated remarks threatens
fair, honest, and accurate elections across Montana because it diminishes
the people’s trust in the election system.

When people believe that elections are not fair, they’re less likely to
vote.

The truth is that Montana has some of the best run, and most secure,
elections in the country. Voting is a Montana value. That’s why our common
sense voting laws empower voter rights, not weaken them. As a state, we have
a proud tradition and history of strong voter participation. We often lead
the way in making sure that all of our citizens can cast a ballot.

Along with your County Clerks and Election Administrators, Montanans take
the threat of voter fraud very seriously. Voter fraud is a state and federal
offense, and those who believe they’ve witnessed voter fraud in any way have
a citizen responsibility to immediately report the offense to the proper
authorities.

But in the last two months, some in the current Legislature are falsely
alleging voter fraud as a smokescreen to take some negative steps that will
make it harder for eligible Montanans to vote in an election. Bills have
already been proposed that would restrict voter registration and
identification requirements for voting.

At the same time, a bipartisan Vote-By-Mail bill that would have increased
voter participation and saved over $2 million in taxpayer money was
suspiciously scuttled at the last minute because of politics and scare
tactics.

At the heart of these irresponsible legislative efforts has been a push to
question the motivation of voters and make it difficult for so called “less
informed” voters to cast a ballot. These arguments are out of place and out
of line.

It is not the job of your Legislature to attack or question your motivation
as a Montana voter. Likewise, no one ever has a right to judge whether or
not you are an “informed voter.” Voting is a constitutional right. Rather
than make it harder to vote, we all have a responsibility to ensure that
every eligible Montanan has the opportunity to cast a ballot.

In Montana, you can currently register to vote up until 8:00 PM on Election
Day. Since this law was passed in 2005, nearly 43,000 eligible Montana
voters have used the process to exercise their right to vote. Late
registration is not unique to our state, as both Wyoming and Idaho have had
almost identical laws in place for much longer than Montana.

Proposals to put unnecessary restrictions on voter registration clearly
support the notion of bureaucracy over democracy. If the Legislature is
successful in restricting voter registration, the end result will ultimately
turn eligible Montana voters away at the polls.

It’s irresponsible for anyone to allege voter fraud based on gossip,
hearsay, or political posturing. It’s even more extreme when some
legislators use those false claims of voter fraud as a sham excuse to
propose unnecessary and reckless bureaucratic hurdles that will make it
harder for you and other eligible Montanans to vote.

We all have a responsibility to protect the elections process across
Montana. The responsible way to do that is through common sense and honest
discussions about elections - with arguments based on fact instead of
fiction and fear. Our Democracy is “a government in which the supreme power
is vested in the people…,” meaning all of the people, and not just some of
the people.

Voting is a freedom we share as Americans. Never should anyone infringe upon
this freedom.

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