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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Court Won't Block Montana Counties From Mailing Ballots

Montana absentee ballot for the 2017 special congressional election.
Eric Whitney
Montana Public Radio
Montana absentee ballot for the 2017 special congressional election.

HELEN, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday denied a request for an emergency injunction to block most Montana counties from mailing ballots to active voters.

A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request filed by Joe Lamm, the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee and Republican voters, but said it would continue to hear the appeal. The first briefs are due in January.

Attorney Emily Jones of Billings, who is representing Lamm, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether the plaintiffs plan to continue their appeal.

The parties filed an emergency application to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon to stop the counties from mailing ballots.

They are appealing a Sept. 30 ruling by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen that upheld a decision by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to give counties the option to hold the general election mostly by mail.

Lamm argued Bullock overstepped his authority. Bullock said he had the authority, under the emergency declaration made for the COVID-19 pandemic, to suspend a state law that says regularly scheduled federal elections cannot be conducted by mail ballot.

Forty-five of Montana’s 56 counties decided to hold the general election mostly by mail. Ballots are set to be mailed on Friday. People will have options to vote in person early and on Election Day in all counties.

The re-election campaign of President Donald Trump and several Republican Party groups also challenged Bullock's suspension of the state election law, but apparently have not separately appealed Christensen's ruling.

Trump's campaign argued a mail ballot would be subject to widespread voter fraud. Christensen said the plaintiffs could not offer any evidence of voter fraud in Montana in the past 20 years and that the June primary had been held via mail without any reported fraud.

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