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Federal judge blocks Montana law on changing voter registrations

Polling Place
Posted at 12:19 PM, Apr 26, 2024

HELENA — A federal judge has blocked Montana from enforcing one section of a 2023 law that established requirements for voters changing their registration.

Last year, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 892, sponsored by Rep. Lyn Hellegaard, R-Missoula. Supporters said the bill was intended to ensure people couldn’t vote twice in one election. While Montana already had a law in place saying no one could vote more than once in a single election, HB 892 added a specific prohibition on voting once in Montana and in an “equivalent election” in another state.

One provision of HB 892 said voters can’t “purposefully remain registered to vote in more than one place” and that they must provide their previous registration information when registering to vote at their new location.

MontPIRG and the Montana Federation of Public Employees sued, saying that language went beyond the goal of stopping double voting and left voters at risk of criminal penalties even if they never intended to vote twice. They argued the provision wasn’t clear about what was required of voters, and that some had legitimate reasons they might have registrations in more than one place.

Attorneys for the state, defending HB 892, said the law has been in effect and there hasn’t been any evidence it’s interfered with political participation, and that it would be a mistake to change the rules so close to the 2024 election.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said in a ruling Wednesday that the plaintiffs had shown a plausible case that the language was too broad. He put a preliminary injunction in place to stop the state from enforcing only the section on multiple registrations, allowing the rest of HB 892 to remain in effect. Morris said in his ruling that officials had testified that section wouldn’t substantially change the voter registration procedure in Montana, so temporarily blocking it wouldn’t create confusion for voters in this election.

Click here to read the ruling.