The legislature (legislative branch) of government makes laws, the governor (executive branch) signs or vetoes laws, and the courts (judicial branch) interpret laws. This is how the three branches of our government work – each branch balances the other branches. This system of checks and balances prevents any branch of government from undermining the rights of citizens, ignoring our constitution and harming our democracy. Checks and balances operate at both the federal and state levels and have been enshrined in our constitutions to protect all citizens from dramatic ideological shifts that threaten individual rights and the republic.
Currently, Montana’s court system is interpreting the constitutionality of a number of laws passed by the 2021 Legislature and signed by Governor Gianforte, including several laws that restrict voting. The Montana Free Press (MTFP) has carefully tracked more than two dozen citizen lawsuits challenging laws enacted in 2021. The MTFP published its research online at Laws on trial – Montana Capitol lawsuit tracker (montanafreepress.org). This valuable website includes information on each lawsuit, legal filings, decisions and news articles on each case. It even provides links to the original legislation for each challenged law. The information below about the lawsuits challenging the voting restrictions was found on this website.
We’re most interested in new laws that make it harder to vote, especially for rural Montana residents and voters on Indian reservations, and the lawsuits against them to protect Montana’s right to vote enshrined in our constitution. . These laws include:
1. HB 176 which eliminated the ability for voters to register on election day and vote.
2. SB 169 which changed the types of ID required to register to vote and to vote in person.
3. HB 530 which limits who can return absentee ballots.
4. HB 506 which limited when new voters could receive an absentee ballot.
5. SB 170 which mandated more frequent purges of voters from voter rolls.
6. SB 319 which restricted voter registration and other political activities on college campuses.
Below is a list of lawsuits and the bills they are contesting. Three of the lawsuits have merged, including one brought by Western Native Voice and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Forward Montana v. Montana challenged SB 319; a bill originally drafted to affect campaign finance laws. The lawsuit argued that the two provisions included at the last minute were unrelated to campaign finance and were therefore unconstitutional. This case had a summary judgment of the Court ruling in favor of Forward Montana that struck down two provisions, one of which restricted political activity on college campuses and the other affected the recusal of judges.
MFPE et al. v. Montana is challenging HB 176 on behalf of labor and disability rights groups. This trial is ongoing.
Three costumes were combined, including:
- Montana Democratic Party vs. C. Jacobsen
- Western Native Voice v. C. Jacobson
- Montana Youth Action et al. against C. Jacobsen
These combinations challenge HB 176, SB 169, HB 530 and HB 506. This combined combination is also pending.
As noted above, you can access the link on the Montana Free Press website to follow these lawsuits as they progress.
With school and primary elections approaching this spring, now is the time to verify your voter status to ensure your right to vote. Check that you are on the voters list as an active voter and that your address is correct. Go to https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/ to verify your information.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing nonpartisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information on the Missoula League, visit our website: lwvmissoula.org