Posted on October 2, 2008, Printed on October 3, 2008
The Montana Republican Party has challenged the voter registrations of 6,000 people in the state’s Democratic strongholds, such as the university towns like Missoula and rural counties with Native American reservations, according to voting rights advocates.
More than half of the challenged registrations were in Missoula, where the University of Montana is located, and where the 3,400 targeted voters is equal to 5 percent of the county’s voters, said Matt Singer, CEO of Forward Montana, a progressive voter advocacy organization. The other registrations were challenged in Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier or Hill Counties.
"My name is probably on that list," Singer said. "I moved two months ago, but I just updated my (address on my) voter registration last week."
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The Republican challenges were based on the Post Office’s national change of address directory, Singer and other voting rights activists said. The Republicans used the directory to identify people who may have registered to vote while living at a previous address, such as students who moved from year to year. Registration information must contain current residences or people can be barred from voting.
"They looked through the list of new registrations and compared it to the change of address files," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director for the New Voters Project of the Student Public Interest Research Group. "Anybody who is listed as registered at old address was challenged."
The Montana Republican Party did not return a phone call to comment.
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Missoula County attorneys have responded to the GOP voter challenges by saying that roughly 2,200 of the challenges affected people who were believed to be living in the county, Singer said. Under state law, those individuals can update their registration information when they vote.
"The Republicans are taking the County to court to challenge the 2,186 voter who are in the county," he said. "The local officials say those are still registered."
Montana has Election Day voter registration, but only at county offices. Thus, the individuals who live in more remote locations whose registrations were challenged would have to travel to county seats to correct their voter file -- a hurdle on Election Day.
Singer said the voter challenges also were intended to undermine the efficiency of local elections, because the county officials who have to respond to the voter challenges are now processing record numbers of new voter registrations. As a result, he said it was an open question whether absentee ballots and cards confirming voter registrations would be out mailed out late.
"All voters are being targeted," he said.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and author of Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008).
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