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Montana Supreme Court temporarily restores challenged election laws ahead of the primary

Montana Secretary of State
Posted at 5:20 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 20:47:10-04

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court has temporarily restored new state voting laws for the June primary that prevent same-day voter registration and require voters that use student IDs for identification to bring additional documents.

Last month, Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s office asked Supreme Court justices to stay a district court order that blocked the two new regulations.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which comes weeks before the state primary election, temporarily restores the laws while the legal challenges play out.

“Since we have determined that the status quo is best maintained by staying the preliminary injunction and since we are further convinced that staying the preliminary injunction would cause less voter confusion and disruption of election administration,” the order stated.

The decision was made by a panel of five justices. Justices Rice, Baker, Sandefur and Gustafson signed on to the order. Chief Justice McGrath would have denied the motion.

The two laws being challenged were passed by the Republican majority during the 2021 state legislative session. Republican lawmakers said the reforms were aimed at efficiency and security.

At the beginning of April, District Court Judge Michael Moses of Billings granted a request for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of those laws until a final ruling on their constitutionality. Moses said his order would prevent possible “constitutional injury” to affected while the case is litigated.

Plaintiffs – including the Montana Democratic Party, tribal advocates and youth-voting groups – challenged the laws as unconstitutional restrictions on voting. They specifically argued the requirements would disproportionately affect Native Americans and young voters.

Jacobsen’s office said in their request for a stay that election officials across the state have already been trained on the new laws, and they have been doing outreach to voters explaining the new requirements. They noted that municipal elections were successfully conducted last year with the laws in place, and they argued allowing a change so close to an election would create unnecessary confusion.