On August 6, 2020, Montana Governor Steve Bullock issued an Executive Directive to implement emergency measures for safely administering the 2020 November General Election during the COVID-19 pandemic. The directive applies only to the 2020 General Election and permits Montana counties to expand access to voting by mail and early voting opportunities based on local discretion. The directive also continues measures taken during Montana’s local school district elections and June 2020 primary election to require appropriate social distancing practices and ensure that voting and voter registration is safe for all Montanans.
The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Montana Republican State Central Committee filed suit to challenge Governor Bullock’s Directive. They argue that the directive violates the United States Constitution. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Governor and Secretary of State from permitting counties to exercise their local discretion to expand access to vote-by-mail and early voting opportunities.
Vote-by-mail is a safe and secure option for voting. Montana law already allows any active voter to apply to receive a ballot in the mail without an excuse and to continue voting by mail in the future so long as the voter remains qualified to vote and resides at the same address. The new plan enables individual counties to allow every active voter in the county to receive a ballot in the mail without requiring an application. Montana successfully implemented a similar directive during local school district elections and the June 2020 primary election, and only seeks to expand this option for the November election.
LWVMT is seeking to intervene in this lawsuit to defend the Directive’s expanded vote-by-mail and early voting plan on behalf of their members. CLC represents LWVMT and is seeking to ensure that voters have expanded options to access the ballot box while safeguarding voter health and safety in exercising their rights. It’s also critical so close to the election to prevent voter confusion as voters make plans to vote safely.
What’s at Stake
Montana has reported more than 8,468 cases and 122 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic will not end by the time voters cast their ballots in the November General Election. Voters need expanded options to vote safely, including vote-by-mail and increased early voting opportunities. Voters also need to know their options in time to make an informed voting plan by the election, as Election Day is fast approaching on Nov. 3, 2020.
This lawsuit creates voter confusion and seeks to limit voters’ options to plan for Election Day. Because the new plan does not require voters residing in participating counties to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot before receiving it, many voters in those counties are already expecting to receive their ballots in the mail. If this lawsuit succeeds, these voters risk being left in the lurch and will be forced to vote in person or not at all – a choice that is untenable for many high-risk voters and their caretakers given the ongoing pandemic.