State of Montana

Montana Voter Registration Penalty Challenge (Federal Court)

Montana Public Interest Research Group v. Jacobsen

Lawsuit filed by Montana Public Interest Research Group and the Montana Federation of Public Employees challenging portions of House Bill 892 that prohibit eligible voters who wish to register in Montana from “purposefully” remaining registered in another jurisdiction and impose criminal penalties and fines on those who intentionally or inadvertently violate this provision. The plaintiffs also challenge a provision of the law that requires a person who was previously registered to vote in another county or state to provide their previous registration information when completing the Montana voter registration application. The complaint notes that those who unintentionally fail to fill out this information on a voter registration application could also be subject to criminal liability.      

The plaintiffs argue that while the law ostensibly targets “double voting” by effectively requiring voters who seek to register in Montana to de-register elsewhere, it actually imposes vague language and unclear standards that threaten to subject voters to criminal penalties if they unintentionally or unknowingly violate H.B. 892 by remaining registered in another location. In particular, the plaintiffs assert that the law fails to define what it means for a voter to “purposefully” remain registered in another jurisdiction outside of Montana. They contend that “it is unclear whether voters must notify election officials in other jurisdictions and take affirmative action to deregister (and then confirm deregistration) before submitting registration applications in Montana,” for instance. 

The complaint notes that throughout the legislative process of H.B. 892, legislators raised the fact that the law’s “did not actually allay its stated concern with double voting and was effectively redundant given the safeguards already contained in Montana’s election code.” The plaintiffs allege that the challenged provisions of H.B. 892 are overly vague and violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process. The plaintiffs also claim that the challenged provisions burden the right to vote under the First and 14th Amendment and are unconstitutionally overbroad. The plaintiffs ask the court to block the enforcement of the challenged provisions.

On April 24, 2024, the judge granted a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking the law. On May 1, 2024, Montana appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

STATUS: The appeal is ongoing in the 9th Circuit. Oral argument is scheduled for Aug. 14, 2024.

Case Documents (District court)

Case Documents (Ninth Circuit)

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