Big Sky Roundup

Voter ID bill passes Senate vote

By: - February 10, 2021 3:49 pm

Voters casting ballots (Getty Images)

A proposal to make Montana’s voter identification laws more stringent has received preliminary approval in the state Senate, another step forward for a series of “election integrity” bills supported by Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and the governor’s office.

SB169, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, builds on existing state law that requires voters casting a ballot in person to show photo identification. Under the proposal, voters who bring certain types of non-government photo IDs, such as a student identification card or a store membership card, would need to show additional documentation, such as utility bill. The legislation would place similar requirements on registration.

“What we’re looking at here is attempting to improve on a system to make a good process better,” Cuffe said.

He emphasized that he’s not trying to further the specter of voter fraud — something of which there’s almost no evidence in Montana, and a claim that some proponents made in committee hearings on the bill — rather, he said he seeks to close a “loophole.”

“Nowhere in the bill is any claim of voter fraud or any wrongdoing,” Cuffe said.

Nonetheless, opponents of the bill fear that it will place further restrictions on low-income voters, those who live in rural tribal areas or elderly Montanans who can’t drive.

“I don’t think we can be naive about what this bill is trying to do,” said Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Helena, on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This is a voter suppression bill. This is setting up road blocks for the sole purpose of disenfranchising people from a system that works as it is.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.