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Judge temporarily halts several new Montana voting laws ahead of statewide election

Judge Michael Moses
Posted at 4:25 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-07 12:20:53-04

BILLINGS — Four controversial voting laws passed by the 2021 State Legislature will not be enforced in the upcoming statewide elections after a Yellowstone County District Court Judge ordered a preliminary injunction.

The order halts the enforcement of four laws, which together ended Election Day registration, banned paid ballot collection, required voters to bring a secondary form of identification if voting with a student ID and stopped the practice of issuing ballots to 17-year-olds, even if they would turn 18 years old by Election Day.

The Montana Democratic Party, four tribal governments and several advocacy groups, including Western Native Voice, sued to prevent Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen from enforcing the laws. Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses granted a preliminary injunction until the court could rule on whether the laws are constitutional. Jacobsen's office said it would appeal Moses' decision.

In an emailed statement, Senate President Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, called Moses’ order “judicial activism at its worst" because ballots are scheduled to go out for statewide elections in about a month. The upcoming election will decide which political party will get Montana's new seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Blasdel and Emilee Cantrell, spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, pointed out that Moses was appointed to the bench twice by Democratic governors.

Also in an emailed statement, Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan said democracies don’t let people pick and choose voters, and the GOP-backed bills attacked Montanan’s right to vote. In a separate statement, Western Native Voice’s Executive Director Ronnie Jo Horse said the organization celebrated the decision.

Moses said his order maintained the status quo and prevented possible “constitutional injury” to the voters the plaintiffs represent while the cases are litigated. At first sight, the laws could be an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, the right to free speech and the right to equal protection under the law for, in part, young voters as well as Native American voters, according to the judge’s order.

The ruling applied to three consolidated lawsuits over the voting laws passed in the last legislative session. Moses allowed the cases to be consolidated at the request of the plaintiffs, which included the state Democratic Party, Western Native Voice, Montana Native Vote, the Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Montana Youth Action, Forward Montana Foundation and the Montana Public Interest Research Group.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from state Republican and Democratic leadership as well as the Secretary of State's Office.