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Montana lawmakers reject bill to ease voting for Native Americans

Ceiling of the Montana Capitol

Lawmakers in Montana's Capitol reversed course Wednesday.

Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

Montana lawmakers have shot down a bill that would have made it easier for Native Americans to vote.

The state House on Wednesday voted 51-48 to reject a bill that would have expanded voting access on Montana's seven Indian reservations. This is a sharp reversal from two days ago when legislators voted to advance the measure for final approval.

In the wake of the 2020 election, lawmakers in nearly every state are considering hundreds of election reform bills. Republicans are largely backing the more than 360 bills aimed at restricting voting access, while Democrats are pushing more than 840 expansive measures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The Montana bill is among the few to earn a floor vote so far.

The House's rejection means that effort is likely dead, but some lawmakers are still hopeful the chamber could reconsider the measure, if not in this session then next year.

The bill would have required Montana's 56 counties to open at least one satellite or alternate election office on any reservations in their jurisdiction, beginning a month before an election. County officials and tribal leaders would have been given discretion to figure out the days and hours of operation.

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Counties would have been instructed to accept tribal IDs, for voting or voter registration, even if they did not have an expiration date or physical address. Local officials would have also been encouraged to add ballot drop boxes.

While proponents of the bill saw it as a step in the right direction, some voting rights advocates said the measure didn't go far enough to bolster voting accessibility for Native Americans.

The legislation did go through revisions to make it more appealing to Republican lawmakers who were worried about the cost of the proposed changes. Before Wednesday's vote, there was narrow bipartisan approval of the bill, but ultimately five lawmakers — four Republicans and one Democrat — changed their mind and voted against the bill.

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