Montana's new restrictions on the handling of mail-in ballots illegally discriminate against Native Americans and will suppress their turnout this fall, the American Civil Liberties Union and five tribes alleged Thursday.
They filed a lawsuit asking a state court to strike down a measure approved by voters in 2018 and just now taking effect. They say new curbs on who may collect others' ballots, and how many, effectively disenfranchise Native Americans who live in remote areas without home mail delivery.
It is the newest front in the fight for voting rights across Indian Country, coming a month after the settlement of a legal battle allowing North Dakotans living on reservations to cast ballots even without complying with the state's restrictive voter ID law.
The Arizona law banning so-called ballot harvesting will remain in effect at least through the state's presidential primary next month.
A divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the four-year-old law, which prohibits collecting and returning the mail-in ballots of a non-family member, was enacted with discriminatory intent in violation of constitutional protections and the Voting Rights Act.
The appeals court also struck down another section of the law, allowing election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. State and national Democratic campaign committees challenged the law in court following its enactment in 2016 by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
On Tuesday, however, the 9th Circuit agreed to delay its order while Republican state Attorney General Mark Brnovich appeals to the Supreme Court.
An Arizona law banning a third party from returning another person's mail-in ballot was contrived to suppress minority voting in violation of the Voting Rights Act, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The practice of so-called ballot harvesting — often practiced by campaign volunteers and staff — was banned by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature in 2016 but later challenged in court on the grounds it was a deliberate attempt to stifle minority voters.
The lawsuit, filed by state and national Democratic party committees, also challenged Arizona's policy of discarding votes cast in the wrong precinct. The committees claims that is another voter suppression tactic.
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling 7-4 that discarding out-of-precinct votes and banning ballot collection violated federal law and were a continuation of the state's long history of voter discrimination.
Republicans continue to suspect they lost several close House races in California last fall because a new state law permits campaigns to collect mail ballots directly from voters, suggesting the system is ripe for fraudulent abuse. But now the GOP is quietly working on plans to improve their own ballot-harvesting operations in the nation's most populous state, hoping that helps grow their portion of delegation in 2020 from only seven of the 53 seats.
"We got our clocks cleaned," Minnesota's Tom Emmer, the new chairman of the House GOP campaign operation told GOP donors in a private conference call last month, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. "While the Democrats had an operation on the ground that was actually doing the ballot-harvesting, we did not have a corresponding organization that was doing that," Emmer said, promising: "That won't happen again."
That GOP vow to fight back is complicated by a significant public relations problem – the exposure of an illegal 2018 ballot-harvesting scheme on behalf of a Republican candidate that has prompted North Carolina to keep one House seat vacant until a special election this fall.
The suspicions about what happened in California centers on the potential for nefarious behavior when ballots completed and sealed in envelopes by voters are then put in the hands of partisan operatives with the promise of a safe delivery to election centers. The alleged ballot tampering in North Carolina includes filling out, or forging, ballots without the voters' knowledge or consent.