New Montana Laws Restrict Native Voter Participation


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On May 17, 2021, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Montana challenged two new Montana laws that hinder Native American participation in the state’s electoral process.

photo of Montana capitolIn the final weeks of the legislative session, Montana legislators passed two laws that will hinder Native American participation in the state’s electoral process. A lawsuit filed by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on behalf of the Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe challenges two discriminatory voting laws: HB 176 and HB 530.

One of the new laws ends same-day registration (HB 176), which reservation voters have relied upon to cast votes in Montana since 2005. The other new law attempts to block organized ballot collection on rural reservations (HB 530), in spite of the thirteenth district court ruling unconstitutional a similar anti-ballot collection law in Western Native Voice v. Stapleton in 2020.

“These laws are an unconstitutional attack on the right of Native Americans to vote, and we look forward to proving it in court,” said NARF Staff Attorney Jacqueline De León.

In partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, and the American Civil Liberties Union, who represent Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote, NARF filed Western Native Voice v. Jacobsen in Billings challenging the constitutionality of the two laws. As part of their voter education and voter registration efforts, Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote regularly provide rides from tribal communities to county election offices on Election Day so that voters can register and vote.

The new laws show an ongoing pattern of anti-Native election-related legislation in the state. On a national level, when the Montana bills became law in May 2021, 13 state legislatures with sizeable Native populations had introduced over 100 bills that would disenfranchise Native voters.

“These laws are part of a broader scheme by the Montana legislature to attempt to cut out the Native vote. We stopped them before and we’ll do it again,” said NARF Staff Attorney Samantha Kelty.

Read more about this case and obstacles faced by Native American voters.

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Please stand with us in protecting Native voting rights! To help communities build a brighter future for all, Native Americans must retain their right to vote. The Native American Rights Fund protects Native voting rights in Montana and across the country. Donate today to support our nonprofit legal organization.

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