Court Blocks Montana Laws that Restrict Voting Rights for Native Americans


(Photo: Steve Cordes, Unsplash)

By Jaanvi Kaur and Ankita Joshi

BILLINGS, MT – A Montana court stopped two state laws that restrict Native American participation in the state’s voting process.

Montana’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic have, as representatives of two Native American voting rights organizations and four tribal nations, disputed these laws.

“Today is a good day for the voters of Montana, and for the sanctity of the Montana Constitution. This order reaffirms the principle that the right to vote must be preserved for all voters, and that laws targeting Indigenous voters cannot be supported by flimsy and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” said Alex Rate, Legal Direction, ACLU of Montana.

The first law, HB 176, ends Election Day registration, which the Indigenous community has relied on to cast votes in Montana since 2005.

The second law, HB 530, attempts to block paid ballot collection, another essential measure that Indigenous communities rely upon.

Both these measures prove to be problematic due to the fact that Indigenous voters on rural reservations disproportionately rely on the service of ballot collectors to cast their votes, said the ACLU.

In 2020, a Montana court faced a similar situation during the Western Native Voice v. Stapleton case, which also severely restricted Native American’ access to their ballots, explained the ACLU, adding the court, after  listening to “cold, hard data” emphasizing the detrimental effect the measure would have on the Native American vote, struck the measure down in 2020.

The new lawsuit against HB 176 and HB 530 have as Plaintiffs Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote, both of which are Native American-led organizations whose primary focus is to increase civic participation in the Native American community.

Some of the communities referenced include: the Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salih and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

In response to the presentation of the two new proposed state laws, many activists have voiced their support for the ruling against HB 176 and HB 530.

“The court correctly found that these laws likely violate many provisions of the Montana Constitution, including the right to vote, equal protection, free speech, and due process. This is an important victory. Montana politicians have tried and failed yet again to undermine Native American voters,” added Alora Thomas-Lundborg, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project.

And, Samantha Kelty, Staff Attorney, NARF, said: “This injunction ensures that legislation designed to limit who can participate in this democracy will not take effect in 2022, and we will continue to fight to ensure HB 176 and HB 530 never restrict Native people’s right to vote in Montana.”

“We are pleased the court stopped these laws from burdening all Montana voters, and particularly Native voters who face additional barriers to accessing the vote, and ultimately look forward to seeing these laws permanently blocked,” noted Theresa Lee, Litigation Director & Clinical Instructor, Election Law Clinic Harvard Law School.


About The Author

Jaanvi is a first year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in Legal Studies and minoring in Human Rights. She plans to graduate Spring 2025 and is interested in human rights law and attending law school.

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13 thoughts on “Court Blocks Montana Laws that Restrict Voting Rights for Native Americans”

  1. Keith Olson

    The second law, HB 530, attempts to block paid ballot collection, another essential measure that Indigenous communities rely upon.

    Paid ballot harvesting?

  2. Alan Miller

    After reading this it isn’t clear what the laws do exactly or why they ‘disproportionately’ effect native people.  Is there documentation or witness testimony that shows that the law’s purpose was to hurt native voters?  How this would be done?  Was there, real or ostensibly, another stated purpose for these laws?

      1. Alan Miller

        The standard is not intent, but impact.

        The standard of what?  And how much impact? . . . and how could that even be measured?

        I’m not even understanding what these laws are due to the postage stamp descriptions.  On something this obscure, and from another state, don’t you think you should:  a) describe the laws and b) how they cause the impact claimed and c) have some evidence of the impact?   Perhaps I’m naive; I expect this of a news piece.

        So one is about paid ballot gatherers.  Aren’t all ballot gatherers paid?  And if they are or not, how does that impact native people on way or the other?

        The other is about being able to register the same day as the election?  Isn’t that a bit late?  I thought you had to register a couple of weeks in advance.  But election day is more a deadline than a day anyway now.  And why would native people’s ‘rely’ on last day registration, and why any more or less than anyone else?   And what is the stated intent?  I’m guessing it’s hard to verify if someone is eligible to vote before they actually vote if it’s on the same day?  If that’s the intent, isn’t that a good law, and why would that impact native peoples more?  Not understanding any of this.  Not from the article.

  3. Ron Oertel

    This type of article is not intended to explain the issue, only the fact that there’s a legal challenge.

    I suspect that every single law on the books has a “disproportionate impact” on one group or another. Technically, you can probably challenge each and every one of them on that basis.

  4. Don Shor

    There is no evidence of voter fraud in Montana, so there is no need for these bills. That makes it easy to conclude that their purpose is to suppress voting in demographics that would predominantly vote for Democrats. That’s the case pretty much everywhere Republicans are pushing their fraud claims and tying them to restrictive legislation.

        1. Alan Miller

          yeah I know.  I think your purposefully not answering.  As I pointed out the article doesn’t explain any detail about what these laws do or how they disproportionately effect native peoples.  I go to articles to learn things, not to have to search the web to try to figure out the basics and try to figure out the article derives its conclusions to make its point.  Why would you defend such low quality journalism by being as glib in your answers as the lack of information in the article?

  5. Ron Oertel

    By making it harder to vote.

    The part that I find (amusing?) about this type of argument is how at least some “progressives” want to eliminate Measure J. (In fact, it seems at though Robb Davis would prefer this, based upon his recent comments in another article.)

    I guess they’re fine with encouraging voting for representatives, but not actual issues.

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