HELENA — Another lawsuit from Republicans has been filed to block Montana counties from conducting the Nov. 3 election with all-mail ballots, a week after a similar lawsuit from the Trump presidential campaign and several GOP groups.
The suit, filed Wednesday, has been consolidated with the Trump/GOP lawsuit. A hearing on the suits’ request to block all-mail ballot elections will be Sept. 22 before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula.
Meanwhile, election officials in 46 of Montana’s 56 counties already are preparing to mail ballots to all registered voters on Oct. 9.
Wednesday’s lawsuit said Gov. Steve Bullock violated state law and the U.S. constitution when he gave Montana counties the power to decide whether to use all-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 general election.
Only the Legislature has the power to allow all-mail ballots for a statewide election, and all-mail ballots could lead to election fraud and dilute the power of legitimate votes, the suit said.
Bullock issued an Aug. 6 order that said Montana counties could choose to use all-mail ballots, instead of having polling places, as required by state law.
County election officials had requested the order, citing concerns over whether they could conduct an election with Election Day polling sites during the Covid-19 pandemic. They said they were worried about finding enough poll judges and open polling sites.
Bullock made the order under his emergency powers, which allow him to circumvent some state laws during the pandemic.
Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed by the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee and five voters from Park and Stillwater counties – two of whom are Republican candidates for the Legislature.
Many of its claims echo those made by the Trump/GOP lawsuit, but it added another one: That by having all-mail ballots in some counties but not others, voters in all-mail counties would have their power enhanced, because it would be easier for them to vote. That disparity violates the Constitution’s equal-protection clause, the suit said.
Montana’s 2020 Nov. 3 election is packed with significant, competitive statewide races.
State voters will decide one of the nation’s top U.S. Senate races and choose a new governor, U.S. congressperson, attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state, and decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana.
The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit are being represented by the James Bopp law firm and Billings lawyer Emily Jones.
Bopp is a prominent Republican attorney who has challenged many campaign-finance restrictions and other laws meant to limit money in campaigns.