WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Montana Democratic Party, Montanans for Tester and a Montana voter filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging one of Montana’s newly-enacted voter suppression laws, Senate Bill 319, that the parties allege targets college-age voters. The challenged provision of S.B. 319, the Student Organizing Ban, forbids any political committee or student organization from partaking in activities including “voter identification efforts, voter registration drives, signature collection efforts, ballot collection efforts, or voter turnout efforts for a federal, state, local, or school election inside a residence hall, dining facility, or athletic facility operated by a public postsecondary institution.” The suit argues that, by specifically singling out college locations but not other public buildings, this law is intended to limit the organizing efforts and political speech of Montana’s college students in violation of the First, 14th and 26th Amendments. This is the second lawsuit filed challenging S.B. 319; the first lawsuit was filed in state court.
Montana saw record voter turnout during the 2020 general election, with participation among voters aged 18 to 29 rising almost 40% since the prior general election. The complaint argues that, in response to this increased youth turnout, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed multiple laws aimed at suppressing the right to vote among young voters, specifically college students. Some of these laws are already being challenged in other lawsuits. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that the Student Organizing Ban in S.B. 319 “targets Montana’s college-age voters with surgical precision” and is “designed to limit the ability of newly-enfranchised Montana voters to fully exercise the franchise by limiting the information available to them and by stopping them from engaging in constitutionally protected political speech on college campuses.” The suit asks the court to prohibit the enforcement of this law.