Montana: How Lincoln County’s ‘Big Lie’ Upended an Election Department | Tristan Scott/Flathead Beacon

Lincoln County’s election officials in Montana resigned en masse after facing unfounded allegations of fraud and falsifying documents from the county commissioners. The respected officials had been commended for their work and were trusted by candidates and the community. The commissioners’ accusations and hostile environment created by extremist party politics led to the departures. The vacancies pose concerns about the county’s ability to run future elections and deter prospective employees from public service. The tensions reflect a broader trend of election officials stepping away due to baseless accusations and threats, perpetuated by conspiracy theories and disinformation about election security. Read Article

How will Montana police the integrity of its future elections? | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

The past three months have featured one legislative debate after another over proposed changes to how counties conduct elections and verify their results. But last week the conversation took an inevitable turn into the realm of enforcement — in other words, how Montana will police the integrity of its elections moving forward. The first pitch came last Wednesday from Rep. Neil Duram, R-Eureka, who suggested the state establish an “election security team” made up of eight appointees handpicked by statewide officials, legislative leaders and the Montana Supreme Court. Duram’s House Bill 905 would task that team with overseeing a post-election hand count of all ballots cast in every Montana precinct — numbering 663 as of the 2022 general election — and report its findings to state and county election officials.

Source: How will Montana police the integrity of its future elections?

Montana: Tabulator ban, closed primaries voted down as election bills pile up | Sam Wilson/Helena Independet Record

Three controversial proposals backed by right-wing “election integrity” groups were summarily tabled by Montana lawmakers following committee hearings that stretched through Saturday. The bills, all sponsored by Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, would have banned machine-counting of ballots, required votes be counted at the county precincts they were cast in and moved Montana to closed primary elections. As a crucial legislative deadline nears, the bills to drastically change the way elections are conducted in Montana surfaced in the midst of a procedural bottleneck. The approaching transmittal deadline prompted the Senate State Administration Committee to hold an unusual Saturday meeting to consider them alongside a half-dozen other bills. The committee chair, Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, acknowledged the time crunch, caused in part by a bill-drafting process that has stretched longer into the session than it typically does.

Full Article: Tabulator ban, closed primaries voted down as election bills pile up

Montana Democrats say election security committee is a waste of time | Shaylee Ragar/Montana Public Radio

A special committee on election security will have its first meeting at the Montana Legislature on Thursday. Republicans and Democrats are at odds over its purpose. Republican Sen. Carl Glimm from the Flathead will chair the special select committee on election security. He says the six-person, Republican majority committee will have two main goals. “I would like to see us come out the other end with good legislation, if we deem that it’s necessary, and I would like for us to be able to give assurance to the citizens of Montana that our elections are the best they can be.” Glimm did not point to a specific case where elections have been flawed, but said there’s always room for improvement. Glimm says lawmakers are responding to concerns about election security from constituents, and will ask for expert testimony about how to prosecute election fraud, the chain of command of ballots at county elections offices and how ballot tabulation machines work.

Full Article: Democrats say election security committee is a waste of time | Montana Public Radio

Montana elections officials claim harassment from election deniers: ‘They’re making our lives miserable’ | David Murray and Traci Rosenbaum/Great Falls Tribune

It is not an exaggeration to say that the United States is embroiled in one of the most contentious political periods in its history. A recent NBC poll found that 81% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans said they believe “the political opposition poses a threat that if not stopped will destroy America as we know it.” Montana has largely managed to avoid the most fractious of these disputes – due in large part to the overwhelming control Republicans currently enjoy in state politics. In 2020, Montana Republicans won every statewide race and gained a veto-proof 67 to 33 advantage in the House. Yet for more than a year there have been rising voices of concern over the integrity of elections, both in Cascade County and across Montana, by groups still pointing to the false claims regarding 2020’s presidential election. Much of the criticism in Cascade County centers around the county’s elections office and the Cascade County Commissioners. Since at least June 2021, members involved in several conservative groups have made repeated allegations of voting irregularities across Cascade County, and have demanded that the paper ballots from the 2020 general election be preserved for a possible future investigation.

Source: Montana elections officials claim harassment from election deniers

Montana GOP lawmaker: Republican election laws tied to concerns that college students vote ‘liberal’ | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

A Republican state lawmaker testified in a Billings courtroom Tuesday that her GOP colleagues were motivated when crafting new election laws last year by the perception that “college students tend to be liberal.” Rep. Geraldine Custer, a former long-time elections official from Forsyth, made no secret of her opposition to several of her party’s priority election bills during the 2021 session. Three of those measures that were signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte are being challenged in an ongoing trial in Yellowstone District Court that began last week. Custer was at times her party’s lone voice of opposition to those laws. She was the only Republican “no” vote on one that changed voter identification to require additional documentation if a voter tries to use a student ID from a Montana college. Among nearly a dozen plaintiffs in the consolidated court case, a trio of youth advocacy organizations are challenging the student ID bill as unconstitutional because it discriminates against young voters. In response to a question from Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, an attorney representing Montana Youth Action, Forward Montana Foundation and the Montana Public Interest Research Group, Custer suggested some Republican lawmakers possess a “mistrust” of young voters. “The general feeling in the caucus is that college students tend to be liberal, and so that’s the concern with them voting,” Custer said.

Full Article: GOP lawmaker: Republican election laws tied to concerns that college students vote ‘liberal’ | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana Secretary of State’s office refers to ‘wingnuts’ pushing Missoula County election allegations | Sam Wilson/Nontana Standard

The chief legal counsel for Montana’s top elections official referred to claims of election irregularities in Missoula County as a conspiracy theory advanced by “wingnuts” during a legal deposition in which he was designated to speak under oath as Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s representative. The comments were made public Thursday near the end of a nine-day trial to determine the constitutionality of several election laws enacted by Republicans last year. Austin James is the chief legal counsel for Jacobsen, who is the sole defendant in the civil case. He took the stand as the final witness in the marathon trial. Nearly a dozen plaintiffs are asking Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses to strike down elections laws that tightened photo ID restrictions for voters, eliminated Election Day registration and restrict third-party ballot collection. The bench trial ended Thursday afternoon. The allegations refer to claims by right-wing activists that their public records inspection of ballot envelopes in Missoula County last year revealed discrepancies with the official election numbers certified by the county and the state in 2020. Alarmed by indications conservative voters were becoming convinced their votes don’t count, Missoula County Republicans this spring undertook their own records request and found no substantial difference from the official tally. County election officials have criticized the original group’s methods as imprecise and error-prone.

Full Article: Secretary of State’s office refers to ‘wingnuts’ pushing Missoula Co. election allegations | 406 Politics | mtstandard.com

Montana judge strikes down election law targeting 18-year-old voters | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

A state district court judge on Wednesday struck down a Republican-backed law preventing anyone who turns 18 before Election Day from getting a ballot before their birthday, finding that it infringes on young Montanans’ right to vote. Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael G. Moses partially ruled in favor of a coalition of youth groups that challenged the law, along with other election-related legislation, last year. The group includes Montana Youth Action, the Forward Montana Foundation and the Montana Public Interest Research Group. “Young people’s participation in democracy is essential. Today, the court affirmed what we already knew: Restricting access to the ballot is an obvious wrong,” Kiersten Iwai, executive director at Forward Montana Foundation, said in an emailed statement. “Now, our newest voters can get involved at the earliest possible opportunity because they will have the same level of access to the ballot as all other Montanans.”

Full Article: Judge strikes down election law targeting 18-year-old voters | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana: Here’s why the primary ballots in Lincoln County are being counted by hand | Kiana Wilson/KPAX

Lincoln County has had to resort to hand counting all the ballots for the primary election because the ballots were cut too short and will not work in the automatic counting machines. This will delay the election results. “This is a very, very tedious, monotonous process. It takes a lot of you know, concentration and focus. And I don’t you know, I would rather take it slow and steady and be accurate 100% of the time rather than trying to push it and stretch it out until six o’clock in the morning and end up with shoddy results,” Lincoln County Elections Administrator Paula Buff said Wednesday. The whole ballot snafu began when the ballots arrived a week late from the Couer D’Alene Printing Press, without a test deck. After retrieving the test deck, Buff cuts the test deck to the required 14” to run in the machine. But when the absentee ballots arrived, they were a ¼” too short and would not run through the machines. After many tests and possible solutions, Buff and members from the Montana Secretary of State’s office decided that the best course of action would be to hand count all of the ballots. Despite the complications, election officials say it comes down to the community. “I kind of send out the Bat Signal at the last minute and, ‘hey, who wants to count?’ and you know, I mean, most of our, you know, election judges are elderly, but, you know, they have some serious stamina and staying power,” Buff said. “And, you know, some of them have more energy than me, I think.”

Full Article: Here’s why the primary ballots in Lincoln Co. are being counted by hand

Montana: Wrong-sized ballots delay results in US House race | Amy Beth Hanson/Associated Press

Ballot printing errors have delayed election results for Montana’s new congressional seat, forcing a small northwestern county to count votes by hand in the unexpectedly close Republican primary race between former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and former state Sen. Al “Doc” Olszewski. Zinke led Olszewski by 1,181 votes, or 1.5 percentage points, out of 80,194 votes counted, as of 3:30 p.m. local time Wednesday. Lincoln County had an estimated 6,000 ballots to hand count. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, was considered the favorite in the race and had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. “The race appears to answer the question of whether President Trump is a ‘kingmaker,’ as Zinke has previously said,” said Christina Barsky, a University of Montana professor who teaches classes in election administration, government and public budgeting. The trouble in Lincoln County stemmed from a vendor printing the ballots on the wrong-sized paper, meaning they could not be run through a machine tabulator, the secretary of state’s office said Wednesday. By law, ballots have to either all be counted by machine or all counted by hand, spokesperson Richie Melby said. Lincoln County Clerk and Recorder Robin Benson said in a statement that the hand count was expected to take two to three days. Election officials started counting ballots on Tuesday.

Source: Wrong-sized ballots delay results in Montana US House race | AP News

Montana election officials report threats ahead of primary | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

Escalating rhetoric related to voter-fraud conspiracy theories is crossing the line into what election officials say are threats against their physical safety, with less than two weeks left before Montana’s primary election. Addressing the state Legislature’s oversight committee for election processes, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said Wednesday he’s been working with other organizations to encourage local election administrators and law enforcement to develop plans “for the safety of their staff, polling locations and equipment.” “Election misinformation, disinformation, the stuff that’s happening across the state, is harming and putting at risk our election officials, our election judges, our election volunteers and poll-watchers in the coming elections,” he said, adding, “someone needs to stand up and say Montanans need to be proud and feel good about the election practices we have in place and can feel confident about their vote.” Mangan cited potential threats directed at election officials in Carbon and Cascade counties, and asked the State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee to consider legislation that would enhance protections for election officials and judges against safety threats.

Full Article: Montana election officials report threats ahead of primary | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana: GOP lawmakers, activists go local with push for hand-counted ballots | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

A self-described cyber security expert implicated in an alleged breach of a Colorado election system is touring Montana counties this week, the latest push by some Republican lawmakers to return the state to the days of hand-counting all its ballots. The local drive is part of a national effort spawned by unfounded voter fraud theories, but experts warn that eliminating ballot-processing machines could return elections to the days of widespread disenfranchisement and fraud that prompted the switch to machine-counting more than a century ago. Despite no documented instances of the machines being manipulated or hacked during any election, they’ve become top targets of right-wing activists who believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Lawmakers in at least six other states have introduced legislation to prohibit the use of machines during elections, and at least one such bill draft has been requested for Montana’s 2023 legislative session. Seated in a gray polo shirt and a white Maserati baseball cap, Mark Cook on Monday spent well over two hours telling the Ravalli County Commissioners that their election system is in jeopardy. Cook said his expertise entails helping software companies uncover vulnerabilities in their systems. Following the contention over the results of the 2020 election, he said he began looking at the infrastructure of election systems across the country, and was “absolutely shocked” when he quickly discovered major security flaws.

Full Article: GOP lawmakers, activists go local with push for hand-counted ballots | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana: District court blocks GOP’s new voting laws | Alex Sakariassen/Missoula Current

A district court judge in Yellowstone County on Wednesday temporarily blocked four new election administration laws passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature that have been challenged by the Montana Democratic Party and a coalition of Indigenous and voter advocacy organizations. In his order granting the injunction, Judge Michael Moses said the plaintiffs made a convincing case they would suffer “irreparable injury” by “the loss of constitutional rights” if the laws were not blocked for the remainder of the legal proceedings. The Montana Democratic Party, which has submitted hundreds of pages of declarations and expert testimony to support its position, hailed the order as a “win for voting rights.” “These four GOP bills were a blatant and cynical attack on Montanans’ constitutional right to vote, specifically impacting young voters, Native voters, elderly and disabled voters, and voters who have trouble getting to the polls,” said Sheila Hogan, the party’s executive director, in an emailed statement. “You cannot pick and choose who can vote in a democracy.” Helena attorney Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, who represents Montana Youth Action and several other youth-oriented voter nonprofits in the case, similarly referred to the injunction as a “victory for young voters and for all Montanans.” Ronnie Jo Horse, executive director for plaintiff Western Native Voice, said in a statement that her group will “continue to hold our elected officials accountable especially when it comes to voting rights for our Native communities.”

Full Article: District court blocks Montana GOP’s new voting laws – Missoula Current

Montana’s new voter management system to be tested during 2022 primaries | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

For the first time since 2005, Montana election administrators in some counties will begin running the state’s new voter management system alongside the current system in a series of “parallel tests” before a more-broad deployment next year. The current schedule calls for all the state’s counties to switch over to the new “ElectMT” system on the third week of 2023, state Elections Manager Stuart Fuller told lawmakers Thursday. Before that happens, Fuller said, 15 counties will conduct parallel tests during the 2022 primary and general federal elections. That will give those election workers the opportunity to test-drive the ElectMT system while the official election processes — from registering voters to printing, mailing and accepting ballots — will be run on the tried-and-true MontanaVotes system. MontanaVotes was adopted statewide in 2006, and the state has been developing a successor to the aging system since 2019.

Full Article: Test-runs of MT’s new election system to begin with 2022 primaries | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana election officials worry Secretary of State is rushing new election system | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

Election officials in Montana are ringing alarm bells that the Secretary of State’s plan to move forward with new election software at the start of 2022 could leave them with a largely untested, unworkable system for next year’s federal elections. Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen is planning to replace a statewide election database system that tracks voter registrations and interacts with nearly all levels of running elections, from updating precincts to printing and accepting ballots, by January 2022. Her predecessor, Corey Stapleton, had previously begun the process of switching from the current system, “Montana Votes,” with a new system known as “electMT.” But during a meeting of the Legislature’s State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee last week, the top county election officials from Cascade and Ravalli counties said that months of delays and a missed deadline for a major test during this year’s general elections has created the need to push back that switch-over date. They also indicated Jacobsen’s office has been unresponsive to their concerns.

Full Article: Election officials worry Secretary of State is rushing new election system | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana: GOP legislators push for special panel to probe elections | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

An overwhelming majority of Montana’s GOP legislators are urging their leadership in the state House and Senate to appoint a special committee to investigate the security of the state’s election system, an effort spearheaded by Republican legislators who are pushing theories of widespread voting fraud. The decision to appoint a special select committee, as requested in the Wednesday letter signed by 86 of the GOP’s 98 lawmakers, rests entirely in the hands of Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Speaker Wylie Galt, both Republicans. Galt didn’t return phone calls requesting comment on the letter, which asks for a response from them by Oct. 6, and Blasdel declined to comment when reached Friday. The letter proposes forming a GOP-majority committee, in which each party gets seats relative to their numbers in each chamber. Republicans hold 67 of 100 House seats and 31 of 50 Senate seats. “Many of our constituents have reached out to us with questions about Montana election security,” the letter states. “… The Select Committee would conduct hearings about the process and security of Montana elections and propose future changes if needed; including legislation.”

Full Article: GOP legislators push for special panel to probe Montana elections | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana lawsuit by youth groups calls new Republican election laws ‘a cocktail of voter suppression measures’ | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

A trio of groups advocating for young Montanans are challenging several changes to Montana’s election laws enacted by the Legislature, calling them “a cocktail of voter suppression measures that land heavily on the young.” The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Yellowstone County District Court, targets three bills passed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year. Two are already the subject of existing lawsuits: Senate Bill 169, which tightened voter identification requirements, including requiring that student IDs be augmented with another form of identification for in-person voting; and House Bill 176, which ended Election Day registration in Montana. House Bill 506 previously received attention for a series of last-minute changes to the bill by Republicans, who amended it to alter the process for drawing Montana’s new congressional district. Thursday’s lawsuit challenges a different aspect of that law, which prevents ballots from being mailed out to new voters in advance of their 18th birthdays.

Full Article: Lawsuit by Montana youth groups calls new Republican election laws ‘a cocktail of voter suppression measures’ | 406 Politics | helenair.com

Montana: How G.O.P. Laws Could Complicate Voting for Native Americans | Maggie Astor/The New York Times

 One week before the 2020 election, Laura Roundine had emergency open-heart surgery. She returned to her home on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with blunt instructions: Don’t go anywhere while you recover, because if you get Covid-19, you’ll probably die. That meant Ms. Roundine, 59, couldn’t vote in person as planned. Neither could her husband, lest he risk bringing the virus home. It wasn’t safe to go to the post office to vote by mail, and there is no home delivery here in Starr School — or on much of the reservation in northwestern Montana. The couple’s saving grace was Renee LaPlant, a Blackfeet community organizer for the Native American advocacy group Western Native Voice, who ensured that their votes would count by shuttling applications and ballots back and forth between their home and a satellite election office in Browning, one of two on the roughly 2,300-square-mile reservation. But under H.B. 530, a law passed this spring by the Republican-controlled State Legislature, that would not have been allowed. Western Native Voice pays its organizers, and paid ballot collection is now banned. “It’s taking their rights from them, and they still have the right to vote,” Ms. Roundine said of fellow Blackfeet voters who can’t leave their homes. “I wouldn’t have wanted that to be taken from me.”

Full Article: How G.O.P. Laws in Montana Could Complicate Voting for Native Americans – The New York Times

Montana firm connected to controversial review of Arizona election results | Arren Kimbel-Sannit/Daily Montanan

Observers of a Legislature-sponsored review and recount of election results in Arizona’s largest county alleged last week that “copies of voting system data” were sent to an unnamed lab in Montana with little explanation, according to a summary of notes from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, which sponsored the observers. The observation reads that on May 24, Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State working as a liaison from the state Senate, “confirmed that (the data) was sent to a lab in Montana” but “did not specify what security measures were in place, or what the lab in Montana will do with the data or how long it will be in possession of the copies.” Republican lawmakers in the Arizona Senate authorized an audit of election results and issued subpoenas for election systems from Maricopa County in April, encouraged by persistent but unfounded claims of voter fraud and impropriety by former President Donald Trump in the fallout of his loss — President Joe Biden defeated Trump by roughly 45,000 votes in the county, one of the country’s most populous. The review has been plagued by controversy, litigation and allegations of procedural errors and impropriety, though it has resulted in significant financial gains for the state GOP and boosted the political fortunes of current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and outspoken critic of the audit who recently announced her bid for governor of Arizona.

Full Article: Arizona election audit observer: County data could be under review at Montana lab – Daily Montanan

Montana Election Security Bill, Amended To Limit Who Can Handle Absentee Ballots, Headed To Governor | Kevin Trevellyan/MTPR

Legislation limiting who can handle absentee ballots during election season cleared the Montana Legislature Tuesday largely along party lines. An initially uncontroversial bill granting the secretary of state’s office rulemaking authority to boost election security was amended with the rule to prevent someone from turning in somebody else’s absentee ballot if they’re paid to do so. Sponsor and Ulm Republican Rep. Wendy McKamey said the provision is a needed voting safeguard. “We want to keep it as clear and transparent and uninfluenced by monies as possible,” Ulm said. Browning Democratic Rep. Tyson Running Wolf said the amendment prevents Indigenous get-out-the-vote groups from collecting ballots in rural tribal communities, disenfranchising residents who lack consistent access to mail service and polling places. “Ballot collection is the only way for many of the voters to make sure their vote is counted and voices are being heard,” Running Wolf said.

Full Article: Election Security Bill, Amended To Limit Who Can Handle Absentee Ballots, Headed To Governor | MTPR

Montana election law changes spark lawsuit | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

The Montana Democratic Party is attempting to block changes to voting rights laws signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The changes would create more stringent identification requirements for voters and end same-day voter registration in the state, which Montana voters approved on the 2004 ballot. The suit was filed in District Court in Yellowstone County shortly after Gianforte’s bill signing Monday and requested that a judge immediately bar Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen from enforcing the new laws. In its complaint, the Democratic Party argues that same-day voter registration has been “critical to protecting the voting rights of tens of thousands of Montanans.” It specifically cites testimony from legislative proceedings earlier this year highlighting the geographic and transportation challenges faced by rural, elderly, disabled and Native American voters — challenges the party maintains have been alleviated for the past 16 years by voters’ ability to register, update their voter information and cast a ballot in a single trip. Democrats also argue that more stringent identification requirements will burden college students and low-income voters. Under the new law, individuals without a government-issued photo ID or a Montana concealed carry permit must produce non-government photo ID plus a second identifying document, such as a utility bill, in order to register or to receive a ballot at the polls.

Full Article: Election law changes spark lawsuit | Montana Free Press

Montana Governor signs bills eliminating Election Day registration, tightening voter ID | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

Gov. Greg Gianforte has officially ended the state’s long-standing practice of allowing citizens to register to vote on Election Day, a change he said will help preserve the integrity of Montana’s elections, but that critics have decried as a blatant attack on voter rights. Under House Bill 176, which Gianforte signed into law Monday, Montana voters will now be required to register no later than noon on the day before an election. Gianforte also signed Senate Bill 169, meaning any voter who does not have a government-issued photo ID or a state concealed carry permit must produce two forms of identification in order to cast a ballot at the polls. Both bills passed the Legislature on largely party-line votes after months of heated testimony that made voting rules one of the more contested issues of the 2021 session. “Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation,” Gianforte said in a statement announcing the changes. “These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come.” The new laws were specifically requested by Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who was present at the bill signing. Jacobsen also released a statement Monday saying “voter ID and voter registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections.”

Full Article: Governor approves changes to election law

Montana: ‘Our best chance to make our voices heard’: Bill for Native American Voting Rights Act introduced in committee | Nora Mabie Great Falls Tribune

Introduced in committee on Wednesday, a Native American Voting Rights Act bill will generally revise election procedures on reservations to reduce barriers to voting in Indigenous communities. Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, House Bill 613 would require at least two permanent satellite election offices for each federally recognized tribe and require precinct polling place notices to include locations on reservations. It would also authorize the use of nontraditional addresses for voters. “This (bill) is very important in the respect that it’s really looking at ensuring our rights as citizens are not undercut,” said Stewart-Peregoy. Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice who worked closely with Stewart-Peregoy on the bill, said the HB 613 symbolizes progress. “This bill will do nothing but push us forward and make Montana one of the leaders in the United States in terms of Native voting rights. … For far too long, people in power have tried to silence the Native vote, and we think this is our best chance to make our voices heard,” he said. 

Full Article: Native American Voting Rights Act bill introduced in Montana

Montana GOP considers ending Election-Day voter registration | Arren Kimbreil-Sannit/Missoula Current

Legislative Republicans debuted the first of their “election integrity” proposals Friday with a bill to end Election-Day voter registration in Montana, which has been on the books since 2005. The bill’s sponsor, Florence Republican Sharon Greef, said it’s a necessary solution to the long lines and hours-long waits on voting day in the last and prior elections — and something that could reduce the burden on the county offices that oversee polling places. “One of our biggest problems is trying to run an election in a decent way that is organized when you still have people coming in to register to vote (on Election Day),” said Doug Ellis, the top elections official (as well as clerk, recorder, treasurer and superintendent) in Broadwater County, in support of the measure. But several opponents of the bill testified Thursday that the solution to administrative burden at the county elections level isn’t to restrict voting, especially if it means cutting off late registration the Friday before election day, as Greef is proposing.

Full Article: Montana GOP considers ending Election-Day voter registration ~ Missoula Current

Montana: Election Officials Back Option For All Mail Ballot General Election | MTPR

Officials in Montana’s second-most populated county support holding an all-mail ballot general election in November. Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman says voting by mail is the logical choice amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic. “We’ve worked closely with the Board of County Commissioners and think having an all-mail election would be a beneficial way to help ensure great voter turnout, help provide the best services we can while keeping everybody safe,” Seaman said. Clerks and recorders recently requested Gov. Steve Bullock allow counties the option of conducting an all-mail ballot general election. Wednesday, Bullock said he’d make a decision by the counties’ recommended Aug. 10 deadline. County elections officials made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail to avoid crowding and increased exposure to the coronavirus. Bullock agreed and every county opted for all-mail ballot elections.

Montana: County clerks call for general election by mail | Holly Michels/Helena Independent Record

With fewer than 100 days until Montanans cast ballots, the clerks who run the state’s elections are asking the governor to allow counties the option to conduct the vote by mail. In a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock dated July 24, the Montana Association of Clerk & Recorders/Election Administrators and the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) said that given the novel coronavirus’ spread in Montana and the rapidly approaching Nov. 3 general election, they want to make a decision by Aug. 10. Their letter included a formal request for the mail-ballot option, with an allowance for in-person voting and other adaptions. “Given we are unsure of how long the pandemic will last, Montana’s Clerk & Recorders/Election Administrators want to (and absolutely should be) prepared for the worst, especially given that elections require numerous election judges and enormous groups of people,” reads the letter. Under a directive from Bullock, all 56 counties chose to hold the June 2 primary by mail. Generally Montanans can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, with absentee turnout about 73% in the last election. In June, everyone registered and active as a voter received a ballot by mail with a pre-stamped envelope to return it.

Montana: Native American tribes win injunction on vote collection law | Bill Theobald/The Fulcrum

A Montana judge has blocked new state restrictions on the collecting of others’ ballots, a victory for Native American tribes that say their members rely on the help. The law probably violates the tribal members’ right to vote because it would make it especially difficult for them to make sure their own ballots got from reservations and other remote areas to election offices, District Judge Jessica Fehr of Yellowstone County said Tuesday in putting a hold on the requirements. Her injunction, while not final, is nonetheless the latest voting rights victory for people in Indian Country, who say too many election rules disregard their special circumstances and amount to suppression. It’s also the latest turn in the generally partisan battle over so-called ballot harvesting. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued on behalf of several tribes in March, challenging a state law passed in 2017 and endorsed by statewide referendum the next year. It says caregivers, family members and acquaintances can collect no more than six ballots in an election. Proponents say such limits prevent election fraud by preventing partisan operatives from conducting mass collections of mail-in ballots — potentially from both friendly and unfriendly precincts.

Montana: Judge blocks Montana from enforcing absentee ballot law | Associated Press

A Montana judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocks the state from enforcing a voter-approved law that restricts the collection of absentee ballots during elections. Tuesday’s ruling from District Judge Jessica Fehr came after the Billings-based judge temporarily halted the Ballot Interference Protection Act two weeks before the June primary election. The law passed by voter referendum in 2018 limits one person to turning in a maximum of six absentee ballots. Fehr wrote the law would “significantly suppress vote turnout by disproportionately harming rural communities.” She said Native Americans in rural tribes across the seven Indian reservation located in Montana would be particularly harmed.

Montana: Lawmakers get update on Native American voting in all-mail primary | Jonathon Ambarian/KTVH

On Friday, a state legislative committee got an update on how Montana’s all-mail primary election went in Indian Country. The State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee wrapped up three days of online meetings Friday. Because of concerns about COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock gave Montana counties the option to switch to all-mail ballots for the June 2 election – and all 56 counties took that option. On Friday, the committee heard from four election administrators from counties with large Indian populations – Dulcie Bear Don’t Walk of Big Horn County, Tammy Williams of Blaine County, Katie Harding of Lake County and Joan Duffield of Rosebud County. All four counties had voter turnouts at or below the Montana average in the primary, with Big Horn County having the lowest turnout in the state at 35.4%. However, administrators said there were some positive signs for tribal turnout. Bear Don’t Walk said 25% to 35% turnout is typical for a primary in Big Horn County, and that about 44% of those who were mailed a ballot this year returned them. Williams said Blaine County estimated about 30% turnout in reservation areas, but that overall turnout was again on the high end of what was expected. According to Duffield, turnout in Rosebud County’s Lame Deer precinct was 20% this year, compared to 11% and 10% in the 2016 and 2018 primaries.

Montana: Mail ballot election goes well, but a general election by mail isn’t certain in Montana | Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette

Montana’s first mail-ballot primary election set records for participation and the went fairly well, but it would take a fall emergency to set up a mail ballot general election. That’s because there’s no language in Montana law supporting a mail ballot general election. The exception would be another order by Gov. Steve Bullock giving counties the option of a mail ballot election to protect public health. “It is too early to tell what, if any, steps will need to be taken in the general election to protect the public’s health, while protecting the right to vote,” said Marissa Perry, Bullock’s communications director. “As he did in issuing the primary directive, Gov. Bullock will consult with county election administrators, public health experts, emergency management professionals, the Secretary of State, and political leaders from both parties to determine the safest way to proceed once more is known about how the virus could impact communities in the fall.” More to the point, said state Sen. Doug Cary, R-Billings, the governor’s executive order that triggered the mail ballot primary has a July expiration date. Bullock would need a new, 120-day order to raise the option of a mail ballot general election. The Bullock administration said Thursday that the governor’s current emergency order will last as long as the president’s. The normal, 120-day expiration rule doesn’t apply.