Montana Supreme Court Rules Four Major Election Security Law Bills Are Unconstitutional

Montana’s Supreme Court has just ruled that four major election security bills passed by the state legislature are unconstitutional.

In 2021, the Republican-led Montana Legislature passed several election law reform bills that were subsequently challenged by lawsuits from Democrats and Native American groups.

Four of those new reform laws were ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge in 2022.

Montana’s Republican Secretary of State appealed the lower court’s ruling and the case went to the state’s high court.

However, the Montana Supreme Court just affirmed the district court’s decision declaring the challenged election reform laws as unconstitutional, The Hill reported.

Of the four challenged election reform laws, one in particular was swiftly dispensed as unconstitutional via a summary judgment from the district court judge before the trial even began, according to the Montana Supreme Court’s 125-page ruling on Wednesday.

HB 506 changed the existing law to now prohibit the provision of an absentee ballot to a minor who would turn 18 and become eligible to vote before an election day.

The high court agreed that this alteration “interfered with the fundamental right to vote” of otherwise eligible voters.

Also challenged was HB 176, which eliminated same-day voter registration and moved the registration deadline up to noon of the day before an election day.

The courts determined that the law violated the right to vote and equal protection under the U.S. and state constitutions.

The Supreme Court further noted that “Election day registration has become wildly popular, with over 70,000 Montanans utilizing it since 2006.

“In a 2014 referendum, Montana voters rejected eliminating election day registration by a 14-point margin.”

The Hill reported that the Democratic and Native American plaintiff groups also challenged as unconstitutional a section of HB 530 that outlawed the paid collection and submission of ballots by a third-party individual or group, also known as ballot harvesting.

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However, the courts found that the provision violated “the right to vote, equal protection, freedom of speech, due process,” and was “an improper delegation of legislative power.”

The courts further observed the existence of “evidence that many groups, including Native Americans, people with disabilities, and other voters, rely on organized groups to help them deliver their voted ballots to election officials.”

Finally, there was SB 169, which made changes to Montana’s voter ID law and demoted student IDs from a “primary” to a “secondary” form of identification.

The change means some additional proof that voters “are who they say they are” would still be required before casting a ballot.

However, this change was deemed an unconstitutional violation of equal protection rights.

According to The Hill, Montana’s Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who was the sole defendant in the consolidated lawsuits brought by Democrat and Native American groups, asserted in a statement:

“Well-funded groups deceived the court and the media in a sad way.”

Through a spokesperson, Jacobsen’s office told the Montana Free Press in a statement:

“The secretary is devastated by this decision but assures Montanans that her commitment to election integrity will not waver by this narrow adoption of judicial activism that is certain to fall on the wrong side of history.”

“State and county election officials have been punched in the gut,” the spokesperson added on the secretary’s behalf.

The Free Press reported that all of the Montana Supreme Court justices concurred on the unconstitutionality of the law that disallowed absentee ballots for minors who would turn 18 before election day.

Nevertheless, there were some dissents from the majority’s judgment on the unconstitutionality of the other three laws, especially from Justice Dirk Sandefur.

At one point in his lengthy dissent, Sandefur wrote:

“In an unprecedented exercise of unrestrained judicial power overriding public policy determinations made by the Legislature in the exercise of its constitutional discretion, however ill-advised to some, the majority today strikes down three distinct legislative enactments on the most dubiously transparent of constitutional grounds.”

READ MORE – Undated Ballots Cannot Be Counted in Pennsylvania Elections, Appeals Court Rules

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By Nick R. Hamilton

Nick has a broad background in journalism, business, and technology. He covers news on cryptocurrency, traditional assets, and economic markets.

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