Don “K” Kaltschmidt addresses the crowd at the GOP annual winter kickoff in January (Arren Kimbel-Sannit/The Daily Montanan)
The Montana Republican Party and the Republican National Committee have asked to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month that seeks to block a law passed by the Republican-led legislature this year surrounding additional voting requirements.
The two groups say their interests in electing Republicans to state and federal offices could be negatively affected if a judge sides with the Montana Public Interest Research Group and the Montana Federation of Public Employees and blocks changes to the law implemented this year under House Bill 892.
Montana Republican Party Chairman Don Kaltschmidt in a statement called the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – MontPIRG and MFPE – “left-wing groups” and claimed they are trying to make elections in Montana “less secure.”
The party’s current platform seeks to implement mechanical or manual vote counts in Montana as part of their effort “to put the responsibility of election integrity and accountability back into the hands of We the People.”
“Basic election safeguards drive up voter confidence,” Kaltschmidt said in a statement. “We’re proud to join with the RNC in filing this intervention and look forward to fighting this battle in court for Montanans.”
Montana law prior to the 2023 session stated that “no person may vote more than once at an election.” The Republican supermajority passed, and Gov. Greg Gianforte signed, Missoula Republican Rep. Lyn Hellegaard’s bill, which adds qualifications to the existing language.
“A person or elector may not vote in this state more than once at any election held in this state or vote in both this state and another state or territory in the same or equivalent elections, except in a special district election in which a person or elector is entitled to vote,” the new language reads.
Legislators said the purpose of the bill was to clarify double voting in state law. But the two organizations that sued argued in their complaint the law “goes much further, creating vague, overbroad new restrictions that implicate other facets of the franchise.”
The law also includes penalties for violations of up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $5,000, which the original lawsuit says are “ridiculous” and could lead to jail time and large fines for people who do not follow what they say are convoluted and unnecessary additions to the voter registration process.
MontPIRG and MFPE said the law could subject its members to those penalties and hamper their efforts to get their members registered to vote.
The Montana GOP and national RNC want to intervene in the case because they say their interests do not align with MontPIRG and MFPE, nor with the named defendants in the suit, all of whom are state officials: Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen, and nonpartisan Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus.
In their motion to intervene, the two Republican groups’ attorneys argue that they too would like to influence Montanans to vote – for Republicans in next year’s election – and that if a judge enjoins the law passed under HB 892, it would harm those interests. They also claim that they have an interest in maintaining the “integrity of the election process” under the new law.
“An injunction of the challenged law threatens the credibility of the election by removing key protections against voters who register in multiple jurisdictions from voting in Montana’s elections,” the brief in support of the motion to intervene says.
They go on to tell the court that intervening in this case could be the only time they can challenge the claims of MontPIRG and MFPE before the election, and that the defendants in the case indicated they would not object to intervention. The filing says the plaintiffs did object to the two groups intervening.
“Movants believe the law is valid, that an injunction is unwarranted, and that Plaintiffs’ desired relief would undermine Movants’ interests, their members’ interests, and the interests of Montana voters,” the brief says.
Helena attorney Dale Schowengerdt is representing the Montana GOP in its effort, while Arlington, Virginia-based law firm Consovoy McCarthy PLLC, which has represented former President Donald Trump on multiple occasions, is representing the RNC.
The efforts for the political parties to intervene in a voting access case is not uncommon, and Republicans have a keen interest in the 2024 election as the party tries to unseat Montana’s lone statewide Democratic elected official, Sen. Jon Tester, and keep hold of all other statewide elected offices, a legislative supermajority, and both of the state’s Congressional seats.
MontPIRG and MFPE are asking a judge to find the new sections of law violate the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and do not further the interests of the state.
“The imposition of severe criminal penalties—even for neglecting to complete a section on the voter-registration application—is not justified and not tailored, narrowly or otherwise, to the interests that purportedly underpin HB892,” their attorneys wrote in their initial complaint.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Judge Kathleen DeSoto had not ruled on the motion to intervene.brief-support-motion-to-intervene-gop-rnc
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