Federal Court Blocks Montana’s New Voter Suppression Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal court has temporarily blocked Montana’s Republican-backed voter suppression law that requires voters to cancel their voter registration in other counties or states before registering to vote in Montana. 

Signed into law last year, House Bill 892, establishes a “Deregistration Requirement” that requires voters to cancel their registration in a previous county or state before registering to vote in Montana and criminalizes those who fail to do so. It establishes these penalties despite the fact that there is not a standard process to deregister. 

The law was quickly challenged by pro-voting groups in both state and federal court. Ultimately, it was the federal court that blocked the law today. 

In challenging the law, the Montana Public Interest Research Group and the Montana Federation of Public Employees argue that while the law ostensibly targets “double voting” — a voter voting twice in one election, which is already banned — it actually imposes vague language and unclear standards that threaten to subject voters to criminal penalties if the voter unintentionally or unknowingly remains 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 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.   

Ultimately, the court sided with pro-voting groups and blocked the law. The 34-page opinion penned by an Obama-appointed judge concludes: “The ability of Montana voters to register to vote without fear of felony criminal penalties appears to substantially implicate the public’s interest in protecting the franchise.” 

Today’s decision is a victory for voters who can register to vote free from worry that they will be criminally prosecuted for a simple mistake. The law will remain temporarily blocked while the case continues. 

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the case here.