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Groups try to block Montana laws they say hurt Native voters

January 13, 2022 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Organizations that participate in get-out-the-vote efforts on Montana’s Native American reservations are asking a judge to temporarily block two laws they say are part of an effort to disenfranchise Native voters.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature passed a bill to end Election Day voter registration and another to prohibit the paid collection of absentee ballots.

Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote sued to overturn the laws in May 2021, saying the laws would harm their efforts to ensure Native Americans can vote. On Wednesday, they asked for an injunction to block the laws from taking effect until the case is decided.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the groups, along with four Montana tribes, are hoping the injunction can be in place in time for the June primary.

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The lawsuit names Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen — the state’s chief elections officer — as the defendant. She has said her office will defend the measures after campaigning on promises to improve election integrity with voter ID laws and registration deadlines.

In 2020, two judges in Billings struck down a voter-passed law that limited people to delivering only six ballots to an elections office and required that person to fill out a form saying whose ballots they were returning.

Attorneys argued that law harmed Native Americans who lack adequate mail, transportation and voting services on reservations, all of which make it difficult for them to mail or deliver their own ballots or to vote in person.

Supporters of the legislation to end Election Day registration said it would allow election clerks to focus on voting on Election Day and noted that people can register and vote on the same day in the 30 days prior to an election. Election Day registration has been in effect in Montana since 2005.

The Montana Democratic Party is also challenging the ballot collection restrictions.