May 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Lawsuit: Montana's new voting laws violate Native Americans' rights

Photo of a ballot in an envelope in a box

Photo: Louise Johns for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union and Native American Rights Fund filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that two new voting laws in Montana are unconstitutional infringements on Native Americans' rights.

Why it matters: Since President Biden's win, Republican state legislatures across the U.S. have sought to pass new voting restrictions, which opponents say will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.

The state of play: The lawsuit argues that the laws, which eliminate same-day voter registration and limit ballot restriction, are part of a targeted campaign to disenfranchise Native Americans.

  • Native Americans make up roughly 6.5% of the population in Montana.
  • Native voters who live on reservations often face barriers due to long distances to election offices or polling sites. Many don't own cars and rely on same-day registration so they don't have to make the trip — which can take several hours — more than once.
  • High poverty rates mean voters cannot always afford gas, per the lawsuit.
  • Since many reservations lack reliable mail service, get-out-the-vote groups often collect and deposit absentee ballots, a process that could become curtailed under the new laws.

The legislature knows all this, Jacqueline De León, a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, told the New York Times. "[A]nd so they are again, I think, taking advantage of those barriers and amplifying them."

  • Christi Jacobsen, Montana's secretary of state, is the named defendant in the lawsuit.
  • “The voters of Montana spoke when they elected a secretary of state that promised improved election integrity with voter ID and voter registration deadlines, and we will work hard to defend those measures," Jacobsen said in a statement to the New York Times.
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