Montana Democratic Party challenges changes to voter ID laws

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Democratic Party has asked a judge to overturn a law that ends Election Day voter registration and another that requires college students to provide other proof of residency besides a student ID to register and vote.

In the lawsuit filed Monday against Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, the party said the laws place an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote for students, Native Americans, the elderly, those with disabilities and others — without a valid reason.

The complaint was filed in state District Court in Billings shortly after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bills into law and said they would “help ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come.”

The bills did not come from any legitimate concerns about the integrity of the state’s elections, the Democratic Party argued in its lawsuit.

“Instead, they represent the latest round of legislative shadowboxing aimed at imaginary threats to election integrity, and false accusations of election fraud orchestrated by those seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, now weaponized by the Legislature to impede access to the franchise,” the lawsuit stated.

The Montana Legislature dismantled “important voting procedures that were critical in facilitating political participation for thousands of new Montana voters over nearly two decades,” the lawsuit said.

Republican Rep. Sharon Greef of Florence said Tuesday her bill to end Election Day voter registration “respects local election officials and Montana voters by ensuring that Election Day is focused solely on voting and counting ballots.”

She said that the new law will “help us conduct elections more efficiently while reducing long lines and voter frustration at the polls.”

Lewis and Clark County elections supervisor Audrey McCue testified against the bill during a legislative hearing, saying a ban on same-day voter registration could create more administrative problems for her office.

The Democratic Party contends that ending same-day voter registration will hurt get-out-the-vote efforts, decrease voter turnout, prevent people from updating their voter registrations and eliminate the opportunity for voter registration outside normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hours. Before the laws were enacted, people could register to vote up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Under the new law, late voter registration ends at noon the day before Election Day.

The new voter ID law requires college students to provide a second form of identification to register to vote and to vote — such as a pay stubs, bank statements, utility bills or other government documents that shows the voter’s name and current address.

“Due to the lack of uniformity in Montana’s college IDs,” the legislation “requires college students living in Montana to also provide any of a wide variety of documents showing proof that they live in Montana,” said Republican Sen. Mike Cuffe of Eureka, who sponsored the voter ID law.

Under the new law, students who have registered after providing that information are not allowed to use their voter registration confirmation cards as second pieces of identification at the polls.

Republican Rep. Geraldine Custer of Forsyth opposed making student IDs a secondary form of identification for registering to vote or voting, saying that would discriminate against students and would lead to a legal challenge.

Jacobsen’s office did not return an email message seeking comment.