Kudos to Montana Supreme Court for Defending Democracy

Photograph Source: Martin Kraft – CC BY-SA 3.0

Montanans who believe our democracy is founded on the right of people to vote in free and fair elections owe a huge debt of gratitude to Montana’s recent Supreme Court decision overturning four laws passed by the Republican-dominated 2021 legislature as unconstitutional.  Those bogus bills were signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte and defended by Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who lost. Again.   

Far from their stated goal of protecting election integrity, like so much else that spews from these paranoid right-wingers, these laws did just the opposite — and took away the “freedoms” they so falsely and consistently claim to support. 

What freedoms?  How’s about same-day voter registration that allows people the chance to register and vote on Election Day?  The challenge to the law included four tribal nations whose members, like so many rural Montanans, often live far from voter registration sites. but want to cast their votes on Election Day.

Likewise, both the district and Supreme Court found the law that attempted to kill ballot collection by individuals or organizations again targeted and “disproportionately impacted” both tribal nations and rural Montanans.  Simply put, the Legislature decided to take away Montanans’ voting rights to cure a problem that didn’t exist.  As the Court wrote, Montana’s Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen: “…failed to introduce any evidence of fraud related to ballot collection in Montana.”

Two more of the laws the Supreme Court found unconstitutional targeted younger voters that, one might think, anyone with a shred of concern about protecting democracy would specifically encourage since young voters are our future. 

But no, instead the Legislature tried to take away those voting rights by prohibiting mail-in ballots for those who had not yet turned 18 — but would be of legal voting age by election day.  Their second sorry attempt was to prohibit the use of “university-issued identification” at polling places.  

Put bluntly, it’s overwhelmingly obvious the Republicans specifically attempted to kill the “freedom to vote” for younger Montana voters because, as the court noted, a former Republican legislator and county clerk and recorder testified at the district court trial that “she believed the amendment was discriminatory because the perception was that students tend to be more liberal and vote accordingly.” In other words, unless you’re voting Republican, they don’t want you to vote.  How’s that for “freedom?”

While the court’s ruling is a significant win for democracy and voting rights, one might wonder why the 2021 Legislature felt so compelled to even attack those rights.  Remember, the 2020 elections saw Republicans take every statewide office and huge majorities in both chambers of the legislature.  One might think they’d figure Montana’s electoral system was working pretty well for them — and leave well enough alone. 

But no — these MAGA masters were following the dog whistle from their losing presidential candidate that the election was “stolen” by fraud.  “Stop the Steal” has, in fact, been proven a totally baseless ploy devised by Trump and his advisors when it was clear he was going to lose the election by millions of votes.  These are the same lies that fueled the violent Jan/ 6 insurrection attempt to overturn the election by preventing Congress from certifying the vote.  

Thanks to our Supreme Court’s defense of Montanans and our Constitution, four of Montana’s unconstitutional voting restriction laws no longer exist.  As for the MAGAs, they continue to falsely blather about “freedom” when, in fact, it’s clear they’re trying to take away our most fundamental freedom — the right to vote in a democracy “of, by and for the people” — and that means all the people.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.