WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, a group of labor organizations, disability rights advocates and Montana voters filed a lawsuit challenging a recently-passed Montana law that ends Election Day voter registration for almost all voters. House Bill 176 was enacted during the state’s 2021 legislative session and bars registration on Election Day for all voters except for those that need to update their registration due to name changes or because they have moved within the same county. Voters now must complete or update their registration by noon the day before Election Day. The complaint, filed on behalf of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana AFL-CIO, Montana Association of Centers for Independent Living and individual voters, argues that H.B. 176 violates multiple provisions of the Montana Constitution because it burdens the right to vote, particularly for working voters and voters with disabilities. They argue that this law also creates arbitrary distinctions between different categories of Montana voters, since it allows voters who moved within the same county to update their registration on Election Day but denies that option to those who move to a new county. This is the fourth lawsuit challenging H.B. 176.
Montana enacted Election Day registration in 2006 with “overwhelming bipartisan support,” according to the complaint, and since its enactment thousands of Montana voters have used the option to register to vote or update their registrations in elections. The complaint argues that “many Montanans utilizing election day registration are existing registered voters who need to update their registration to reflect a change in address, a name change, address a government error, or otherwise change a minor part of their current registration to vote.” The plaintiffs also argue that Election Day registration makes voting more accessible for voters who may not otherwise have a feasible way of going to an elections office or mailing a form to complete or update their voter registration. The suit asks the court to block the enforcement of H.B. 176, arguing that if the law were to remain in place “thousands of otherwise-eligible Montana voters will be directly denied the right to vote—even though they showed up to the polls, even though they were otherwise eligible to vote, and even though a simple administrative change would permit the full exercise of their constitutional rights.”