NICE TIME! Judge Overturns Stupid Montana Law That Made It Harder For Native Americans To Vote
We don't know if you Wonkers can handle it after the Georgia voting and Post Office Getting Unfucked stories, but we have a third nice-time voting story for you! A judge in Montana has overturned a 2018 law that made it nearly impossible for some Native American voters on reservations to vote, the ACLU announced today.
The law, called the "Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act" (BIPA), was one of those Git Tuff on Ballot Collection measures intended to stop the scourge of what Republicans deride as "ballot harvesting," even though it's legal in many states for organizations to collect absentee ballots from voters to make sure the votes get to the polls. Republicans worry that the method will lead to voter fraud, because Republicans worry all votes lead to voter fraud. Plus, well, that's what they do.
The ACLU argued when it filed the suit in March that the law, by making it harder for Native people in remote locations to get their ballots to the polls, disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters living on rural reservations where transportation and mail delivery are limited. In July, District Court Judge Jessica Fehr, in Billings, granted a motion for an injunction preventing enforcement of the law, and today, following a bench trial that began Monday, Fehr threw the law out altogether as an unconstitutional restriction on voting rights. You can read Fehr's full ruling here; in the introduction to the ruling, she writes that "the costs associated with the Ballot Interference and Protection Act ("BIPA") are simply too high and too burdensome to remain the law of the State of Montana."
The outcome isn't exactly a surprise, considering that when she issued that preliminary injunction back in July, Judge Fehr wrote,
The Court finds that BIPA serves no legitimate purpose; it fails to enhance the security of absentee voting; it does not make absentee voting easier or more efficient; it does not reduce the costs of conducting elections; and it does not increase voter turnout.
The law made it much more difficult for Native tribes to coordinate Get Out The Vote efforts with organizers, as the ACLU explained thusly:
- BIPA imposes severe restrictions on who can collect ballots and how many ballots can be collected. Get-out-the-vote organizers would previously collect up to 85 ballots each on average, but are now restricted to just six ballots per collector.
- Under BIPA, bringing ballots to the post office for relatives or neighbors could result in a $500 fine per ballot.
- Compliance with BIPA is complicated by unclear definitions about who exactly can collect a ballot. Organizers may or may not fit into its provisions, depending on which interpretation law enforcement officials adopt.
- BIPA's provisions are incompatible with Native family structures and relationships. BIPA defines a "family member" as "an individual who is related to the voter by blood, marriage, adoption, or legal guardianship." But that definition does not reflect family relationships in tribal communities, where family includes members of the extended community.
- "BIPA ignores the everyday realities that face Native American communities. 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. Criminalizing this behavior is unfair to Native American voters and does nothing to solve the real problem of mail not being picked up and delivered to Native homes," said Jacqueline De León of the Native American Rights Fund.
Among other things, Fehr ruled that the limit of six ballots per collector was arbitrary and stupid and wrong, found that the language of BIPA was "ripe for arbitrary enforcement," and held that the law was unnecessary to prevent voter fraud, since voter fraud is already freaking illegal under other Montana statutes. Apart from the mandatory enforcement bit, these are not verbatim quotes, but the tone isn't far off.
The national ACLU, ACLU of Montana, and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) sued Montana elections officials on behalf of several tribes located in Montana: the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Crow Tribe, and Fort Belknap Indian Community. In addition, the ACLU et al. represented Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote, two Native American nonprofits aimed at increasing voting by Native Americans.
So hooray for the ACLU, and for the plaintiffs, and for the cause of getting rid of idiotic voter suppression laws. Now that the law has been overturned, you might consider helping out Western Native Voice, which can now send people out to remote tribal areas to collect ballots and make sure they're counted.
The good guys won. How's that for a way to end this awful week?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.