The Montana Senate voted down a bill on Wednesday that would have restricted absentee ballot collection in Montana, with some Republicans joining Democrats who opposed the measure as creating an unnecessary barrier for mail-in voting.
House Bill 406 sought to outlaw a practice commonly used by get-out-the-vote groups, in which organizations submit mail-in ballots collected from voters. Under the measure, voters could have still let family members and legal guardians submit their ballots for them, but they would have been be required to enter their personal information into a state registry subject to public information laws.
Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, pointed out that an amendment added to the bill Friday by a Senate panel went further than just prohibiting get-out-the-vote groups from collecting voters’ ballots. Caregivers for voters with disabilities, limited mobility or medical problems would also be prohibited from turning in those ballots.
“This bill is not just unconstitutional, as I’m sure the courts will find. It’s just cruel,” Bennett said.
The bill failed on a 23-27 vote on second reading, with eight Republicans joining all 19 Democrats in voting against it. Chester Sen. Russ Tempel was one of two Republicans who spoke against the bill, saying that although “some of this stuff needs to be done,” county officials in his district were worried it would create significant costs for them. Democratic Sen. Jen Gross, of Billings, echoed that sentiment, saying that the elections administrator in Yellowstone County had estimated HB 406 would add $640,000 in costs per election.