Judges finds new Montana election law unconstitutional

July 28, 2022 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana law that would have required people who turn 18 in the month before an election to vote in person — thus denying them the option to vote absentee — violates the state Constitution, a judge has ruled.

District Court Judge Michael Moses, in his ruling Wednesday, said the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature was not the least restrictive way to make sure people meet age and residency requirements to vote.

The state House initially passed a bill under which election officials would not process or count ballots until the voter met the age and residency requirements. However, the bill ultimately approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte “arbitrarily subjects a subgroup of the electorate to different requirements,” Moses wrote.

Moses declined to issue a summary judgement on three other election-related bills being challenged by the Montana Democratic Party, Native American tribes and youth voting advocates. The plaintiffs have argued the bills make it more difficult for young people, Native Americans, the elderly and those with disabilities to vote.

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Moses found there were issues of fact to be settled at trial in challenges to the bills that ended Election Day voter registration, that required more than a student ID to register and vote, and that banned paid collection of absentee ballots.

The Secretary of State’s Office has argued the Legislature has the authority to enact election laws. The office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

A 10-day trial is set to start on Aug. 16 to consider arguments on the other three bills, said Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, an attorney for the youth plaintiffs.

In April, Moses temporarily blocked all four laws being challenged in this case, saying they were an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

The Montana Supreme Court overturned Moses’ injunction against the voter registration deadline and student ID law, saying three local elections has been successfully held under those laws. Voter registration ended at noon on Monday before the June 7 primary election.