Lawsuits mount over three Montana laws that make it harder for voters to cast their ballots

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Among the plaintiffs listed are Montanans for Tester, a group supporting Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester as well as University of Montana student Macee Patritti, who took part in a voter registration drive at Montana Tech last year.

“These bills explicitly and intentionally undermine young Montanans’ right to participate fully in our democracy,” Montana Democrats Executive Director Sheila Hogan said in a statement to Daily Kos.

“Democrats will always stand up for Montanans’ rights to organize and advocate for a better Montana, and we’ll use every power at our disposal to see that these unconstitutional measures are thrown out.”

In June, the progressive nonprofit Forward Montana filed a similar suit alleging SB319’s passage violated an article in the Montana constitution requiring bills to be single-subject in nature unless the bill is for general appropriation.

Two changes to the bill were notably added at the last minute. In fact, the bill first took shape as a campaign finance proposal wholly unrelated to campus organizing. Both Montana Democrats and Forward Montana agree the second provision tacked onto SB319 violates students’ First Amendment rights, but Montana Democrats’ suit goes even further.

Montana Democrats allege that SB319 “surgically targets the right of college students to vote on the basis of their age in violation of the 26th Amendment” and violates “the First Amendment by way of the 14th Amendment.” The lawsuit points to the contradiction of allowing young voters the right to vote but restricting their ability to register or even participate in democracy itself.

SB319 is one of three laws named in the lawsuit, the first being House Bill 176, which does away with “Montana’s longstanding tradition of election-day voter registration” and instead offers a late registration period ending at noon the day before an election. 

The state is facing four lawsuits aimed at HB176 from labor unions and disability advocates who argue that eliminating day-of registration makes it impossible for many workers and those with mobility issues to register in the first place, as Election Day is the only day when voters can register all day instead of from just 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Montana Democratic Party quickly filed suit against HB176 following its passage, and another law Montana Democrats are fighting in the lawsuit the group filed on Tuesday, known as Senate Bill 169. SB169 places strict identity verification requirements on registering to vote, which the Montana Democratic Party argues disenfranchises a broad section of voters.

With that many organizations and Montanans clearly in opposition of such restrictive voter suppression laws, it’s almost as if there’s something more at play here? Like in Georgia. Or Pennsylvania. Or Wisconsin. We all see what lawmakers are doing on the right to get their way and stay in office, but there is a way to fight back. Urge lawmakers to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

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