July 7, 2020

MISSOULA, Mont. — A Montana court has blocked a state law that severely restricts the right to vote for Native Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Montana, and Native American Rights Fund successfully sought the preliminary injunction halting the so-called Montana Ballot Interference Prevention ACT (BIPA), which imposed severe restrictions on ballot collection efforts that are critical to Native American voters, particularly those living on rural reservations.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote, Native American-led organizations focused on getting out the vote and increasing civic participation in the Native American community; and the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Crow Tribe, and Fort Belknap Indian Community. 

In a state where the majority of individuals vote by mail, rural tribal communities work with get-out-the-vote organizers who collect and transport ballots to election offices that would otherwise be inaccessible. These ballot collection efforts are often the only way Native Americans living on rural reservations can access the vote. BIPA would have effectively ended this practice, disenfranchising Native American voters en masse.

The court today granted the preliminary injunction, which followed an earlier temporary restraining order halting the law.

The following is reaction to the ruling:

Alora Thomas-Lundborg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “This decision is a huge victory for voting rights. This ruling removes a major obstacle to thousands of Native Americans in Montana who want to participate in the democratic process and vote free of illegal obstructions.” 

Lillian Alvernaz, Indigenous justice legal fellow at the ACLU of Montana: “This ruling is good news. For our democracy to function, Indigenous people living on rural reservations must have access to the fundamental right to vote. BIPA, however, was contributing instead to the disenfranchisement that Indigenous people have experienced since the beginning of colonization.”

Natalie Landreth, staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund: “The Ballot Interference Prevention Act makes it hard for many Montanans to vote. It also is totally unnecessary, as there never was evidence that ballot collection caused any problems in the past. The Tribes are thankful that the court saw all this and has stopped enforcement of it.”  

Marci McLean, executive director of Western Native Voice: “This ruling means that Indigenous voters living on rural reservations are better able to participate in our democracy. Ensuring that all voters have access to the polls is a foundational component to our democracy, and we are pleased that our organizers can continue their get-out-the-vote and ballot collection efforts on every reservation in Montana.”

The lawsuit, Western Native Voice v. Stapleton, was filed in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Yellowstone County.

Ruling: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/pi-order-western-native-voice-v-stapleton

Statement: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/court-blocks-montana-law-restricts-native-american-voting-rights

Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/western-native-voice-v-stapleton

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