Native Voter Participation in Montana Protected Through Injunction
On April 6, the Montana 13th District Court blocked two state laws that hinder Native American participation in the state’s electoral process. “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,” said Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Staff Attorney Samantha Kelty.
The first measure blocked, HB 176, would have ended same-day registration, which reservation voters have relied upon to cast votes in Montana since 2005. The second, HB 530 would have blocked organized ballot collection, similar to an anti-ballot collection law that the Montana thirteenth judicial district court ruled as unconstitutional in Western Native Voice v. Stapleton in 2020.
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.
“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,” said NARF Staff Attorney Jacqueline De León. “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.”
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF), ACLU of Montana, American Civil Liberties Union, 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 court granted the preliminary injunction in Western Native Voice v. Jacobsen, which was filed on behalf of Western Native Voice, Montana Native Vote, the Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The Western Native Voice case has been consolidated with two similar cases brought by the Montana Democratic Party and Montana Youth Action.
Read more about Western Native Voice v. Jacobsen