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Montana Democrats sue after GOP governor signs into law two bills restricting voting access

Montana Democrats are suing the state over two bills signed into law Monday that add new restrictions to voting in the Big Sky state.

On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 176, which ends same-day voter registration, and Senate Bill 169, which revises the accepted IDs which can be used for voting — requiring some voters to present two forms of ID when casting a ballot. Both bills passed on near party line votes.

“Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation,” Gianforte said in a Monday tweet after signing the bills into law. “These new laws establish new best practices to ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come.”

Hours later, election attorney Marc Elias announced a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Montana Democrats.

“This afternoon, Montana’s Republican Governor signed two voter suppression bills into law. Tonight, on behalf of the @MTDems we sued,” Elias said in a tweet.

The lawsuit claims the two new laws violate the state’s Constitution by putting unconstitutional burdens on young, low income, disabled and Indigenous voters. It asks the court to stop the secretary of state from enforcing the laws.

“In America, all attempts to silence Americans should be met with an immediate response,” Sandi Luckey, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday. “The goal of the lawsuit is to stop Republicans from silencing voters, to protect fair elections, and the freedom to vote for everyone in Montana.”

The bills are the latest to become law amid an Republican-led effort at the state level to restrict voting access in the wake of record turnout in the November 2020 election. A tally by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that 361 bills with provisions that restrict voting have been introduced in 47 states as of March 24 — as more state legislatures work to clamp down on ballot access.

In the last month, the effort to restrict voting has intensified as state legislatures begin to head into the final months of their respective sessions.

The Republican sponsors of the Montana bills argue that the bills aren’t about making it harder for voters, but making the state’s election system even more secure and efficient.

State. Rep. Sharon Greef, who sponsored the bill that repealed same day voter registration, said the legislation is about ensuring clean and fair elections by making sure voters register early. The new law sets late registration to noon the day before an election.

“We are blessed with the right to vote in our country, but with that right comes responsibility. The responsibility of registering to vote,” said Greef said back in February on the House floor ahead of passage of her legislation. “To ensure good, clean elections, election officials should concentrate on one thing the day of the election and that is the election. We don’t want frustrated voters waiting in a long line while folks ahead of them are registering at the last minute.”

State Sen. Mike Cuffe, who sponsored the ID bill, acknowledged that Montana has secure elections but said the legislation was about improving the process and ensuring Montana residents are the ones voting in the state’s elections.

“I’m not saying, no where in the bill are we indicating that there is any claim of voter fraud or any wrongdoing,” said Cuffe in introducing his legislation on the Senate floor back in February. “What we’re looking at here, is attempting to improve on the system, to make a good sense process better, to ensure that all members all around the state can feel very satisfactory that folks who have signed up to vote are Montana citizens.”

As of Tuesday, the secretary of state’s website had updated its section for “How to Register to Vote” to match the new law.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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