Secretary of State appeals to Supreme Court to salvage voter ID laws struck down by district court

Injunction upended voter outreach efforts, Jacobsen tells court

By: - May 6, 2022 5:14 pm

Attorneys for Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen in court before Yellowstone County District Judge Michael G. Moses on March 10, 2022 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

With school board races now in the rear window, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office is still seeking to reinstate elements of election and voter identification laws passed in the 2021 legislative session ahead of the June primaries following an injunction issued by a district court judge last month.

A spokesperson for Secretary Christi Jacobsen said this week that the office desires that the Montana Supreme Court return “election officials to the status quo we have known for over a year” by staying an order halting implementation of two statutory provisions passed last year: One that ended Election Day voter registration in Montana, moving the deadline to noon the day before the election, and another that would require students using their college IDs to vote to present a secondary piece of documentation.

Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses on April 22 preliminarily blocked implementation of the provisions in April pending the resolution of a broader constitutional challenge brought by plaintiffs including the Montana Democratic Party, Western Native Voice, youth political groups and others. The changes in House Bill 176 and Senate Bill 169, they contend, unconstitutionally limit access to the franchise, especially for young people and Native Americans.

Senate Bill 169 also changes voter ID requirements for registration. Moses’ order only blocked the provisions of the bill relating to identification requirements at the ballot box.

Later in April, Jacobsen’s office appealed the preliminary injunction to the Supreme Court, accusing the plaintiffs of intentionally waiting as long as possible to request an injunction and arguing the order upended “nearly a year of voter education, election administrator and poll volunteer training, and administrative rules that successfully have been applied in three elections over the past year.”

These outreach efforts included TV ads from the SOS directing voters to requirements on the office’s website that didn’t reflect the impact of the injunction. The Secretary’s website still lists the requirements as passed under SB169 and HB176, but also notes that “due to ongoing litigation, (the provisions) will not be enforced for the 2022 primary” based on the April court order, subject to change. 

The Court did not act on the appeal before school board elections in Montana districts on Tuesday, but could still take it up before the June 7 primaries. So, as it stands currently, Election Day registration is still possible, and voters can still use student identification as a primary ID to get a ballot. They will, however, need to supply additional documentation to register as per SB169.

Richie Melby, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said Jacobsen’s office “has not placed any additional PSAs since the injunction came out,” and that the “Secretary has been airing PSAs to inform voters about current election laws since they took effect over a year ago.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.