House Bill 530, which went to the governor’s desk last week, contained an amendment that could impact groups like Western Native Vote that played a role gathering voter registrations and ballots in Montana’s Indian Country during the latest election. While granting the secretary of state the authority to put rules in place regarding election security, the bill also prohibits anyone from collecting or delivering any ballots for “pecuniary benefit.”
The amendment placing a $100 penalty on any ballot unlawfully ordered, collected or delivered followed the Senate postponing a bill earlier in the month that would limit ballot collection to family members, an election official or U.S. Postal Service employee.
In September 2020, a Yellowstone County District Court judge ruled similar legislation to be unconstitutional saying it violated voting rights and free speech in Indian Country.
“Ballot collection is a lifeline to democracy for many Native voters,” Running Wolf said in a message this week posted to social media.
At the end of March, the Montana State News Bureau reported the House shot down a bill that would have required the county to maintain a satellite office with reservations that they overlap with a month before Election Day. Gov. Greg Gianforte has already signed into law two bills that end allowing Montanans to register and vote on the same day, and require a government-issued ID at the polls, or two other forms of identification. The Montana Democratic Party has challenged both bills in state district court, alleging they violate the voting rights of the elderly, the disabled and Native Americans.