Montana Public Radio

Challenge To Montana Ballot Collection Limit Moves Forward

May 29, 2020
Originally published on May 29, 2020 6:10 pm

A Montana district court will move forward with a challenge against a state law limiting the number of ballots a person can deliver on others’ behalf. As of now the law is currently blocked ahead of the Jun. 2 primary.

On May 29, Judge Jessica Fehr of the Yellowstone County District Court sided with Native American tribes, Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote in denying the state’s motion in support of the Ballot Interference Prevention Act, or BIPA.

BIPA caps the number of ballots a person or group can drop off for someone else at six. The law also requires people to sign a form letting election officials know they’re dropping off another person's ballot.

Lillian Alvernaz with the ALCU of Montana is representing the tribes and advocacy groups. She says BIPA significantly limits the voting rights of people on rural reservations.

“We’re excited for the tribal plaintiffs in our case. It’s important that ballot collectors will not be punished for giving these rural voters, or indigenous people living on rural reservations, access to the ballot box,” said Alvernaz.

Last week, Fehr temporarily halted the state from enforcing BIPA. A different Yellowstone County District Court judge also temporarily suspended BIPA several days later in an unrelated lawsuit brought by Montana Democratic Party figures.

Alvernaz says Western Native Voice v. Stapleton needs to move forward because the other case could get appealed, and residents of rural reservations have distinct interests in the matter. She says many of them lack mail service and don’t have ready access to distant post offices.

Groups like Western Native Voice typically bypass those barriers by rounding up hundreds of ballots in rural areas to bring to election offices. BIPA halted those activities.

Montana voters passed the law in 2018 by a wide margin after it failed in the legislature the year before. Under BIPA only spouses, family or household members, caregivers or close acquaintances can submit ballots.

State attorneys declined to comment for this story. They argue the act preserves election security. Election officials haven’t found a single instance of absentee voter fraud in Montana.

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