Ballot collection bill fails in Senate

By: - April 14, 2021 5:31 pm

Voters casting ballots (Getty Images)

Senate lawmakers voted to indefinitely postpone a bill on Thursday that critics said would significantly and unconstitutionally hinder Native Americans’ access to voting.

The bill, which was similar to the failed 2018 Ballot Interference Protection Act, would limit the persons allowed to collect and submit ballots to a voter’s children or spouse. It would have also banned get-out-the-vote efforts by organizations to collect ballots where not everyone has the means to get to an election office.

The heavily amended House Bill 406 bill failed its second reading on the Senate floor on a 23-27 vote.

Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings, who carried the bill on the floor, said it would put safeguards around voting and said that because the bill does not put a cap on the number of ballots a person can collect, that it would not face the same fate as its 2018 counterpart.

“House Bill 406 creates a standard for those collecting ballots and ensures they are qualified to do so,” he said. “We need to know who is collecting our ballots and ensuring that they are properly registered within the state.”

Kary also said that the bill clears up the vagueness issue that the courts took up in 2018 by strictly limiting ballot collection to family members, which the bill defined as a voter’s children and spouse.

Multiple Democrats spoke against the bill.

Like the 2018 legislation, the bill would have also disproportionately impact Native Americans, said Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Helena.

“Native Americans living on reservations rely heavily on ballot collection efforts in order to vote in elections,” he said. “They rely on these efforts because of difficulty sending and receiving traditional mail, due to the lack of traditional mailing addresses, irregular mailing services, and the geographic isolation and poverty that makes travel difficult.”

Others, including Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings, argued that it would place undue pressure on the counties that run the elections. Citing an estimate from the Yellowstone County Election Administrator she said the bill would cost “at least $620,000 per election for additional staff, computers, satellite offices and more.”

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.