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MT Supreme Court restores GOP laws adding voter ID restrictions, ending Election Day registration

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Montana Supreme Court

The Montana Supreme Court hears arguments on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Three weeks before Montana's primary election, the state Supreme Court restored a pair of 2021 election laws that ended Election Day registration and created stricter identification requirements for in-person voting.

In a 4-1 decision released Tuesday, the court reversed an injunction granted in April by a district court judge who had ruled in favor of the Democratic Party, Native American organizations and a coalition of youth advocacy groups that are suing to overturn several laws enacted by Republicans in 2021.

As a result, voters must now be registered to vote by noon on June 6, the day before the upcoming primary election. And voters casting their ballots in person can’t do so by relying solely on their student ID, as was the case before the laws were passed in 2021.

Stand-alone forms of ID that will allow Montanans to vote in person include: Montana driver’s licenses, Montana state ID, a military ID, tribal photo ID, U.S. passport or a Montana concealed carry permit.

Other forms of photo identification, like a student ID, must be paired with another official document that includes the voter’s name and address. Examples include a utility bill, bank statement, vehicle registration or other government documents.

Yellowstone District Court Judge Michael Moses’s injunction applied to two other laws passed by the Legislature in 2021; the other two are not a part of Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s appeal.

The order was signed by justices Dirk Sandefur, Jim Shea, Beth Baker and Jim Rice. Chief Justice Mike McGrath "would deny the motion," the order states.

The plaintiffs have argued that the new laws are unconstitutional because they disproportionately burden voters from certain groups, including college students, Native Americans, elderly and disabled voters. Jacobsen, a Republican, has sought to uphold the new laws, arguing that they were designed to bolster the state’s election security and were within the Legislature’s authority to determine the state’s election processes.

In her appeal, Jacobsen had argued that the injunction “upends nearly a year of voter education, election administrator and poll volunteer training and administrative rules that successfully have been applied in three elections over the past year.”

She has also repeatedly argued that the plaintiffs delayed asking for the injunction until just before the upcoming primary elections, despite having filed complaints challenging the laws more than a year ago — a point the justices noted in their order.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Montana Youth Action, argued that reversing the injunction would create more confusion for voters, as it would effectively be the third time the rules have changed.

“However, we place greater weight on the fact that elections have actually been conducted under the statutes as enacted … elections that a large portion of Montana voters participated in,” the justices wrote.

They added that "the purpose of equitable injunctive relief is to preserve the status quo and minimize the harm to all parties pending final resolution on the merits,” the justices wrote, defining the “status quo” as the “last actual, peaceable, noncontested condition which proceeded” the lawsuit.


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