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Montana Democrats file lawsuit over Montana’s new voter registration laws

Nicole Silverio, DCNF

Montana Democrats filed a lawsuit Monday after the passage of two bills that change voter registration laws, according to court documents.

Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed H.B. 176, which bans Election Day registration, and S.B. 169, which revises acceptable forms of voter ID. The suit,submitted by attorneys Michael Meloy and Matthew Gordon, argues that the district court should deem these new restrictions as violations of the state constitution.

“There is no legitimate justification for these restrictions, much less any sufficiently weighty state interest to justify their burdens on the fundamental right to vote,” the suit says. “The Court should invalidate each of these new restrictions described further below, as unsustainable under multiple provisions of the Montana Constitution.”

The suit said the House bill directly harms a wide variety of people that had relied on registering to vote on the day of the election. A large number of voters within Montana reportedly rely on Election Day registration to be able to participate in elections, according to the suit.

“Despite the extensive testimony in House and Senate committee hearings detailing how students, the elderly, disabled voters, and indigenous communities have come to rely on EDR [Election Day Registration ], to participate in the electoral process, the Legislature passed HB 176 (Election Day Registration Ban) along strict party lines, thwarting the will of Montana voters who, just seven years ago, firmly rejected a similar effort to eliminate EDR by referendum,” the suit said.

The Senate bill no longer allows student ID cards to be used as acceptable proof of identity when at the ballot box. For two decades, students had used their school identification cards in order to vote and may struggle to find other forms of identification, according to the suit.

The suit said that Republican sponsors of the voter registration laws justified the changes under the guise of strengthening “election integrity.” The suit, however, referred to these restrictions as “voter suppression,” saying there is no evidence that voter fraud took place where Election Day registration occurred or when student ID was used.

“Notably, however, the legislative proceedings were marked by a total lack of evidence of even a single instance in which Montana’s prior EDR regime and ID laws jeopardized the integrity of Montana’s elections or resulted in fraud,” the suit said.

Republican state Sen. Mike Cuff, who sponsored the Senate bill, said that the purpose of the legislation is to improve Montana’s voting system and does not make a reference to voter fraud.

“What we’re looking at here, is attempting to improve the system, to make a good sense process better, to ensure that all members all around the state can feel very satisfactory that folks who have signed up to vote are Montana citizens,” Cuff said on the Senate floor in February.

Republican state Rep. Sharon Greef sponsored the Election Day Registration Ban bill, CNN reported.

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