Senator John Walsh today chaired a Rules Committee hearing to examine the benefits early and absentee voting have for rural America and Indian Country.
Walsh said that increasing early voting opportunities, such as vote-by-mail and same day registration, for rural states make it easier for citizens to vote. Walsh specifically identified the long distances rural farmers and ranchers and Native Americans have to travel to register and vote. He also noted that expanding voting access can save money by allowing local elections administrators to serve voters more efficiently.
"We have an obligation to ensure that Montanans can exercise their right to vote, and we have to address obstacles that keep people from the polls," Walsh said. "Expanding opportunities for both registration and voting will ensure we protect civil rights, reduce costs and increase our elections' efficiency."
Rhonda Whiting, Chair of Western Native Voice in Billings, was a witness at today's hearing to identify the barriers that reduce access to the polls in Indian Country--including the need for same day registration, the ability to register at federal agencies, and importance of online registration.
"In Montana, with election services based in county seats that are considerable distances from Native communities, some Indians have to travel in excess of 100 miles to vote," Whiting said during her testimony. "It is hard to overstate the burden imposed on Native American citizens by having to travel long distances to cast their vote. The remote location of many Indian communities, coupled with the way elections are conducted, limit the ability of Native American citizens to partake in their own government."
More than 30 states, including Montana, permit some form of early voting ahead of Election Day.