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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Montana Supreme Court blocks restrictions on voter ID, same day registration

A close-up of sheets of I Voted stickers ready to be handed out to voters.
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A close-up of sheets of I Voted stickers ready to be handed out to voters.

Montana’s high court has reinstated a block on two laws regulating elections ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Four tribes, two Native American advocacy groups and three political youth action organizations sued the state over election laws passed in 2021 that eliminate same-day voter registration and restrict acceptable forms of voter ID. The plaintiffs argue these policies unduly burden the right to vote, especially for marginalized communities and young people.

Alex Rate is legal director for ACLU of Montana representing the plaintiffs.

“Today’s order from the Montana Supreme Court is good news for folks who support free and fair elections.”

Republican lawmakers say the laws are necessary to keep Montana elections secure.

State Sen. Mike Cuffe carried the voter ID bill last session and said he's disappointed in the decision. He said he believes the order will galvanize Montana's conservative base to vote for Republican-backed candidate Jim Brown in the race for a state Supreme Court seat held by incumbent Ingrid Gustafson.

The laws were temporarily blocked last spring by Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses while the full legal case over the laws plays out. The Montana Supreme Court initially overruled Moses and allowed the laws to stand, saying the plaintiffs waited too long to request the block. The laws were enforced during the June primary.

On Wednesday, the majority of justices on the state Supreme Court reversed course and put the block back in place. The court said its order is not a final ruling, but a safeguard in the event the laws are deemed unconstitutional.

Attorneys argued over the merits of the case during a two week long trial in August. Judge Moses is expected to issue a final ruling soon.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.