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Secretary of State appeals ruling striking down new voter laws

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Montana Supreme Court

The Montana Supreme Court hears arguments in this April photo.

Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen is appealing all four election-related laws that were struck down by a state district judge this year.

In a notice of appeal filed Tuesday with the Montana Supreme Court, Jacobsen indicated she would challenge Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses’ Sept. 30 order finding unconstitutional three laws passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature in 2021: imposing more restrictive voter ID requirements; moving the voter registration deadline back from Election Day to noon the day before; and outlawing paid ballot collection.

The notice also appeals the judge's previous orders in the case, including one that struck down a law barring anyone who turns 18 before Election Day from getting a ballot before their birthday.

Jacobsen is the sole defendant in three separate lawsuits that challenged the four laws. They have been consolidated into a single case, with a dozen plaintiffs including the Democratic Party, Native American organizations and several groups that advocate for young Montanans.

The Republican Secretary of State had not previously said definitively whether she’ll take the case to the state’s high court, but has vowed to continue fighting “to make Montana elections the most secure and accessible elections in the nation.”

Sworn into office alongside the 67th state Legislature, Jacobsen took a more active role in lobbying for legislation during the 2021 session than her predecessor. Her office was deeply involved in shepherding the voter ID and Election Day registration bills through the process.

All four of the now-voided measures passed on largely partisan lines, with Republicans overwhelmingly voting to send them to GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte. Democrats and some GOP lawmakers warned at the time that the election reforms wouldn’t pass constitutional muster.

Moses reached similar conclusions over the past year, finding in July that House Bill 506’s provision barring voters from turning in a ballot before their 18th birthday violates their voting rights. It applied to those who would reach the legal voting age before Election Day.

And following a nine-day bench trial in Billings this summer, Moses also sided with the plaintiffs in a September order striking down the other three laws. He found they violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to vote, to equal protection, to freedom of speech and to due process.

Arlee voters hustled to the town's senior center to vote ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes partnered with the county to organize this and other satellite polling locations throughout the Flathead Reservation ahead of the November midterms.

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