Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen appealed Tuesday to the state Supreme Court to challenge the rulings of a district judge who overturned four election administration laws passed by the 2021 legislature.
The notice marks the continuation of a legal battle that began in April 2021, just a day after Governor Greg Gianforte signed two of the bills into law. Three separate lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a single case representing a coalition of plaintiffs that included the Montana Democratic Party, Montana Youth Action and the Western Native Voice, along with a cadre of other youth and Indigenous suffrage organizations. In more than a year of litigation, these groups and their attorneys have argued that voter rights in Montana are threatened by laws that ended voter registration on Election Day, introduced new voter identification requirements, and prohibited third-party groups from collecting paid ballots.
Lawyers representing Jacobsen, the co-plaintiff in the case, countered that the new laws were necessary to ensure election security and boost voter confidence. This fall, Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses ruled all three statutes “unconstitutional” shortly after the Montana Supreme Court upheld its injunction prohibiting Jacobsen from enforcing them during the ongoing litigation. As a result of the litigation, none of the laws for the November 8 general election were in force.
“As promised, I am fighting for Montana’s widespread and common sense laws that improve Montana’s elections,” Jacobsen said in a statement emailed by her office on Wednesday. “I will continue to work to protect these laws from the extrastate liberal machinery while I fight to make our elections safe and accessible to all Montanans.”
Jacobsen’s appeal also extends to a fourth law challenged in the case, which prohibited county election officials from distributing ballots to people who were too young to vote but would turn 18 by Election Day. Moses struck down the law in a separate order in July.
On Wednesday, Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, general counsel for Upper Seven, whose Helena-based law firm was representing juvenile plaintiffs in the case, said her clients were “not withdrawing” from the lawsuit.
“It is disappointing that the Secretary of State continues to devote resources to defending legislation that he has not been able to back up with factual evidence in court,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, the juvenile plaintiffs remain confident that the district court’s extremely detailed and thorough decision will be upheld because the Montana Constitution protects voters from pointless and onerous election requirements.”
In September, Montana Free Press filed a public records request with the Office of the Secretary of State for records of legal expenses incurred as a result of this case and other litigation. MTFP is still awaiting information on the status of a legal review of this application.
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