HELENA — Supporters of a federal voting-rights bill rallied at the state Capitol Monday, calling on Congress to pass it – and said efforts by Republicans to restrict access to voting is an affront to democracy.
“Without a vibrant and expansive right to vote … there is no way to prevent our country and our state from joining the ranks of authoritarianism and despotism,” said former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson. “Indeed, democracy cannot and will not survive if the politicians in power degrade, diminish and destroy the ability of `we the people’ to vote.”
About 100 people attended the rally, which was organized by the Montana League of Women Voters.
The U.S. Senate may vote as early on Tuesday on Senate Bill 1, which would require states to expand voter-registration and access to voting, such as early voting and vote-by-mail.
However, Republicans in the Senate are expected to force a filibuster to block the bill, which would then need at least 60 votes to advance. Democrats, who support the measure, have 50 votes in the chamber and Vice President Kamala Harris can break a 50-50 tie.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has said he supports Senate Bill 1.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is opposing it.
His office has called it a “blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of our elections to favor the Democrats.”
“The Democrats’ `For the People Act’ isn’t for the American people at all,” Daines said in a statement Monday. “It’s a chance for the Left to steamroll the Constitutution, prop up the Democratic National Committee and use taxpayer dollars to fund elections.”
The original version of the bill included some possible public financing of federal campaigns, but it’s not clear whether the bill facing a vote this week will still have that provision.
Speakers at Monday’s rally in Helena also criticized efforts this year by Republicans at the Montana Legislature to restrict voting.
“In just four months, they have moved us back 20 years,” said state Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula.
Republican lawmakers in Montana this year abolished Election Day voter-registration, created stricter ID requirements for in-person voting, restricted ballot delivery, and prohibited voter-registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts on certain parts of state college campuses.
Republicans have defended their efforts by saying they’re ensuring “election integrity.”
But Nelson said this justification is based on a lie, because Montana and American elections already are secure.
“Those politicians that are telling us that our elections are not secure, that there is voter fraud, that our election results cannot be trusted, that elections have been rigged or stolen are lying,” he said.
Nelson said trashing the right to vote and restricting voting so that certain people maintain power is part of the “playbook of authoritarianism” and dictatorships. He also pointed to the state constitution, which says “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right” to vote.