As battles for voting rights continue to be waged across the country, Montana Democrats scored a win when a Yellowstone County judge “temporarily blocked four new state laws regulating voting and elections in Montana.” 

The Republican-controlled Montana state legislature originally passed SB 169, HB 530, HB 506, and HB 176 back in 2021. The laws were quickly met with objections from “the state Democratic Party, tribal organizations and youth groups…[who] argued…[that the laws] it more difficult for Native Americans, new voters, the elderly and those with disabilities to vote.” 

A coalition of groups, including several advocacy groups, tribal governments, and the Montana Democratic Party “sued to prevent Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen from enforcing the laws…[and] Judge Michael Moses granted a preliminary injunction until the court could rule on whether the laws are constitutional,” KTVH reports. 

In a statement, Montana Democratic Party executive director, Sheila Hogan, said the laws “were a blatant and cynical attack on Montanans’ constitutional right to vote, specifically impacting young voters, Native voters, elderly and disabled voters, and voters who have trouble getting to the polls.”

Legal experts predict that the impact of HB 176 would be especially harmful as it would end same-day voter registration, a practice thousands of Montana voters have utilized this to vote in every election since the policy was enacted in 2005. Judge Moses’ ruling said, “HB 176 unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote because HB 176 eliminates an important voting option for Native Americans and will make it harder, if not impossible, for some Montanans to vote.” 

SB 169 would have eliminated a student ID from the list of eligible identification documents, which would force “[s]tudents to bring an additional document, such as utility bill, bank statement or confirmation of voter registration.” Judge Moses also found the plaintiff’s argument in this case to be convincing, stating, “additional hoops out-of-state students, transgender students, and young people will have to go through in order to meet the requirements for a secondary form of ID will raise the cost of voting.”

As for the two other bills temporarily halted, HB 506 would have “stopped sending anyone under 18 a ballot, even if that person was going to turn 18 before Election Day” and HB 530 “banned the practice of paid ballot collection and delivery.” 

Christi Jacobson, the Secretary of State, has already indicated that she plans to appeal, “Wednesday’s decision defies Montana’s common-sense approach to running our elections…It’s impossible to undo the steps that have already been taken to implement these legislative changes, including direct voter communication, education, and outreach.” 

Republican Senate President Mark Blasdel said, “block[ing] multiple well-crafted election integrity laws barely a month before ballots go out is judicial activism at its worst.”

Alora Thomas-Lundborg, an American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) senior staff attorney with the organization’s voting rights project, cited the judge’s ruling as “an important victory… 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…Montana politicians have tried and failed yet again to undermine Native American voters.”