Court Blocks Montana Laws That Restrict Native American Voting Rights

April 6, 2022 6:15 pm

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BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana court today blocked two state laws that hinder Native American participation in the state’s electoral process.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Montana, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic challenged the laws on behalf of two Native American voting rights organizations and four tribal nations.

The first measure, HB 176, would have ended Election Day registration, which Indigenous voters have relied upon to cast votes in Montana since 2006. The second, HB 530, would have blocked paid ballot collection.

Indigenous voters on rural reservations, where residential mail delivery is often limited or nonexistent, disproportionately rely on the service of ballot collectors to cast their votes. In 2020, a Montana court struck down a similar measure after listening to “cold, hard data” on its detrimental impact on the Native vote.

The court today granted a preliminary injunction in Western Native Voice v. Jacobsen, which 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 Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Western Native Voice has been consolidated with two similar cases brought by the Montana Democratic Party and Montana Youth Action.

The following reactions are from:

Alex Rate, Legal Director, ACLU of Montana: “Today is a good day for the voters of Montana, and for the sanctity of the Montana Constitution. This order reaffirms the principle that the right to vote must be preserved for all voters, and that laws targeting Indigenous voters cannot be supported by flimsy and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.”

Alora Thomas-Lundborg, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project: “The court correctly found that these laws likely violate many provisions of the Montana Constitution, including the right to vote, equal protection, free speech, and due process. This is an important victory. Montana politicians have tried and failed yet again to undermine Native American voters.”

Jacqueline De León, Staff Attorney, NARF: “HB 176 and HB 530 are designed to take advantage of the lack of residential mail delivery, poor roads, and inequitable access to election services plaguing Native communities. Such laws are unconstitutional. No matter how many times Montana politicians try to pass laws restricting Native Americans, we will fight on behalf of tribes to ensure Native people’s right to vote in Montana is free and fair.”

Samantha Kelty, Staff Attorney, NARF: “This injunction ensures that legislation designed to limit who can participate in this democracy will not take effect in 2022, and we will continue to fight to ensure HB 176 and HB 530 never restrict Native people’s right to vote in Montana.”

Theresa Lee, Litigation Director & Clinical Instructor, Election Law Clinic Harvard Law School: “We are pleased the court stopped these laws from burdening all Montana voters, and particularly Native voters who face additional barriers to accessing the vote, and ultimately look forward to seeing these laws permanently blocked.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Montana 13th Judicial District Court of Yellowstone County.


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