League of Women Voters of Montana, CLC Sue in State Court Over New Montana Voter Registration Law

Bozeman, Montana — Today, the League of Women Voters of Montana (LWVMT), represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Upper Seven Law, filed a motion in Montana state court to block HB 892, a voter registration restriction that threatens Montanans’ freedom to vote. The groups argue that the law is unconstitutionally vague and imperils both Montanans’ freedom to vote and the important democracy-building work of nonpartisan civic engagement organizations like LWVMT. LWVMT initially filed suit against the law on October 31.  

HB 892 was signed into law on May 22, 2023 with the stated purpose of preventing people from voting twice in the same election, an action which is already prohibited under Montana and federal law. But HB 892 goes much further than this. HB 892 makes voters and voter registration organizations responsible for ensuring that registration applicants somehow deregister from a previous address. Furthermore, HB 892 could punish voters who do not provide detailed information—even if it is unintentionally omitted—about their previous place of residence when applying to register to vote. 

Under HB 892, if a voter trying to register is not able to comply with these requirements, they risk felony prosecution, including penalties of up to 18 months in prison, fines up to $5,000, or both. 

“We agree that voters should not vote twice in the same election, but HB 892 goes beyond penalizing double voting to threaten the act of registering to vote itself,” said Nancy Leifer, president of the League of Women Voters of Montana.  “HB 892 weakens democracy in Montana by discouraging voters from registering to vote. It also threatens the critical voter services work the League does for voters across the state. The League is ready to defend the rights of Montana voters and protect their freedom to vote.”

“HB 892 punishes voters,” said Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at Campaign Legal Center. “It would punish grandparents moving into an elderly-care facility or students moving across the state for school, all for the ‘crime’ of not deregistering to vote or not being able to provide complete information about previous registration. This law is unnecessary and cuts deeply into Montanans’ fundamental rights, and we look forward to joining the League of Women Voters of Montana to challenge it in state court.” 

Federal law places responsibility for deregistering voters on election officials, not voters. Also, since both Montana law and federal law already criminalize double voting, HB 892 only serves to punish voters for innocent voter conduct. HB 892 appears likely to disproportionately harm voters in already-vulnerable populations, including housing-insecure individuals, elderly voters moving into assisted living facilities, students, Native voters, formerly incarcerated Montanans, active-duty service members and veterans, low-income voters, and voters who otherwise move frequently.

Additionally, because of the criminal penalties it attaches to voter registration, HB 892 discourages nonpartisan civic engagement organizations like LWVMT from widely spreading their pro-voting message and doing the vital work of voter registration,  outreach and engagement.  This is a violation of the LWVMT’s constitutionally protected rights.  

More information about the case can be found here.