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Democrats lose fight in Montana Senate over ballot measures

By Dan Boyce

HELENA, Mont (Reuters) - Over loud objections from Democrats, Montana's Republican-controlled Senate on Friday voted to put proposals on the 2014 ballot that would tighten voter registration and restrict the rights of third parties to compete in general elections.

The measures, which are expected to be approved by the Republican-majority House, do not need approval from the Democratic governor. They would go before Montana voters in November of next year.

Democrats tried to stall action on the bills through a rarely used parliamentary procedure, demanding that the vote be delayed until a missing Democratic senator was found and brought into the chamber.

But Republicans moved forward anyway, prompting Democrats to leap to their feet, shout objections and pound on their desks with everything from coffee mugs to copies of the Montana constitution.

"We did what we had to do and it's done," said Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich.

"I'm saddened by what we saw today - it's worse than Washington, D.C.," Governor Steve Bullock said. "I'm not embarrassed by men and women demanding a right to speak - I'm disappointed by those who denied it."

The measures would ask voters to eliminate same-day voter registration, and put in place a new primary election system that only allows the two political parties that get the most votes in the primaries to be on the ballot in the general election.

Both are seen as benefiting Republicans. Third parties have acted as spoilers for some Republican candidates in recent elections. Same-day voter registration is considered a plus for Democrats.

Any ballot-measure bills that pass the Montana Legislature with a simple majority of both chambers move right to a public vote, bypassing the governor's office.

(Reporting by Dan Boyce; Editing by Mary Wisniewski)

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