Voting Rights and the 2021 Legislative Session
With a Republican supermajority, voting rights took a hard hit this legislative session. Many bills that would restrict Montanans’ access to the ballot box were passed this session along party lines. These bills will be particularly harmful to Indigenous, low-income, and rural Montanans.
- HB 176, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Greef (Passed and signed into law) – This bill will close late voter registration on Friday before election day, ending Montanans’ ability to both register and vote on Election Day. HB 176 will be particularly harmful to rural Montanans without reliable transportation, who may only be able to take one trip to their elections office. Every eligible Montanan has a right to register to vote and cast a ballot. This new law will disenfranchise many Montanans’ access to doing so.
- HB 530, sponsored by Rep. Wendy McKamey (Passed and signed into law) – This bill prohibits organizers from collecting ballots, a service that is integral to rural, tribal, and low-income communities’ representation in the democratic process, as well as older Montanans and folks with limited mobility. This is a reincarnation of the Ballot Interference Prevention Act, which was ruled unconstitutional just last year.
- HB 506, sponsored by Rep. Paul Fielder (Passed and signed into law) – This bill will prohibit Elections Administrators from sending young people who turn 18 within a week of an election a ballot so it would arrive in time for them to fill it out and return it by Election Day. This means HB 506 will disenfranchise young voters who turn 18 in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day and prevent them from voting in their first-ever election by prohibiting ballots to be sent to them.
- HB 651, sponsored by Rep. Marta Bertoglio (Passed and signed into law) – Citizen-led ballot initiatives are vital to our democracy, and this bill makes it harder for these initiatives to get placed on the ballot. By requiring permission from the Legislature and Attorney General into the citizen-led ballot initiative process, this bill creates unnecessary barriers that will make this process much more difficult.
- SB 169, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cuffe (Passed and signed into law) – This law revises election laws to require people without a state, military, or tribal photo ID or passport to provide two forms of identification when they register to vote and when they vote at the polls. Voter ID laws deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to the inclusion of more Americans in the democratic process. Many voters – disproportionately low-income, Indigenous, older, and Montanans with disabilities – will be negatively impacted by these requirements.
Unfortunately, an attempt at expanding and protecting voting rights for some of Montana’s most disenfranchised residents was defeated this session:
- HB 613, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (Tabled) – The Native American Voting Rights Act, was aimed at addressing current voter suppression on seven of Montana’s Reservations. The bill as originally drafted would have required at least two satellite or alternative election offices to be selected by each federally recognized Indian tribe, required precinct polling place notices to include locations on Indian Reservations, and would authorize the use of nontraditional addresses as an elector’s residential address (as many reservations have PO. Boxes and no residential addresses). HB 613 was gutted, removing all important language, the bill subsequently died in a floor vote.