HELENA — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Montana and the Native American Rights Fund are challenging a Montana law that they say severely restricts Native Americans’ ability to vote.
The groups filed a lawsuit in District Court in Billings Thursday arguing a voter-approved referendum that restricts who can collect ballots, and how many they can return to county election offices, disproportionately burdens Native Americans who live in rural areas without home mail service.
The Ballot Interference Prevention Act “ignores the everyday realities that face Native American communities,” said Jacqueline De León of the Native American Rights Fund. “It is not reasonable to expect voters to drive an hour to drop off their ballot, so collecting ballots in reservation communities just makes sense.”
Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote work to promote voter participation in the Native American community. On average, they collect over 85 ballots per organizer, the lawsuit states. Under BIPA workers could only collect six ballots to return to election offices.
The lawsuit asks the judge to block the law.
It names Secretary of State Cory Stapleton and Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan as defendants in their official capacities. Stapleton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mangan said his office had not seen the lawsuit and would release a statement “upon review and when appropriate.”
Election administrators in three Montana counties told a state legislative committee last month that BIPA is frustrating electors, suppressing votes and is easily bypassed because people could collect absentee ballots and mail them rather than drop them off. People who drop off another voter’s ballot at an election office have to fill out a form listing their relationship to the voter.
The referendum passed with 63% of the vote in November 2018.