Our democracy works best when everyone can participate in it and when there are as few barriers to participation as possible. But in Montana, HB 892, a state law passed earlier this year, erects new, unnecessary barriers to Montanans trying to register to vote and make their voices heard in our democracy — punishing innocent voter behavior (with...
Challenging Montana Law Suppressing Voter Registration Activity (League of Women Voters of Montana v. Austin Knudsen)
At a Glance
The League of Women Voters of Montana is challenging the constitutionality of a Montana law that threatens to punish voters who apply to register to vote in a new jurisdiction in Montana.Back to top
About this Case
League of Women Voters of Montana v. Knudsen challenges a new Montana law, HB 892, which threatens felony criminal punishment for voters who register to vote in a new jurisdiction before their prior jurisdiction has removed them from the rolls. There is no standard or clear process for voters to deregister in a prior state or other Montana county, making HB 892’s requirement both extreme and unworkable.
Furthermore, HB 892 makes it a felony if a voter who was previously registered to vote in another jurisdiction fails to provide their previous registration information when completing the Montana voter registration application. Even voters who unintentionally fail to input this information could be subject to criminal liability.
Despite the many uncertainties in the law, what is clear is that HB 892 violates Montanans’ fundamental rights to free speech and to vote by putting the onus of voter registration list maintenance on the individual voters through threat of severe criminal prosecution — up to eighteen months in prison, fines up to $5,000, or both
CLC represents the League of Women Voters of Montana in this suit challenging the constitutionality of HB 892 under Montana’s state constitution.
What’s at stake
HB 892 harms voters by conditioning their ability to register and vote on the actions of their previous jurisdiction, and by requiring that they go through more steps than necessary—under threat of criminal prosecution—before they are able to vote. The law appears most likely to harm certain populations of voters, such as students, housing insecure voters, elderly voters moving into assisted living facilities, veterans and active-duty service members, and voters who otherwise move frequently.
HB 892 also discourages nonpartisan civic engagement organizations from communicating their pro-democratic engagement and voter mobilization messages. The law forces these groups to limit their expression due to the threat that their voter registration work could risk criminal liability.
The risk of harsh criminal penalties related to third-party voter registration work that HB 892 imposes is part of a broader recent trend of attacks on nonpartisan civic organizations’ activity and speech.
Passed under the guise of preventing double voting, HB 892 instead goes much further and severely burdens Montanans’ rights without any evidence supporting its need. Montana and federal law already have safeguards in place to punish and prevent double voting.
Our democracy works best when every voter can participate and civic organizations can freely express their pro-voting message. Rather than creating barriers to voter registration, states should be implementing pro-voter reforms that securely increase voter registration and promote participation in our democracy.