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.
North Dakota has agreed to a significant expansion of voting rights for Native Americans.
Residents of reservations will be able to register and vote this year even if they don't comply with the state's restrictive voter identification law, which requires voters to have an ID with a residential address, under an agreement announced late Thursday.
The deal marks a significant and stunningly sudden victory for the American Indian electorate. It settles the latest lawsuit brought by tribes and voters, who have been arguing for four years that the law is unconstitutional. North Dakota agreed to the settlement only hours after a federal judge rejected the state's bid to get the case dismissed and set a trial date for May.
Native Americans have the right to challenge North Dakota's voter identification requirements in federal court, a judge ruled this week.
The decision is a rare, and only marginal, legal win for advocates of Native American political rights. Just last week for example, the Republican-majority Legislature in neighboring South Dakota killed a bill that would have permitted tribal identification cards as proof of identity and residency when registering to vote.
Tribal IDs are also at the center of the North Dakota litigation. State law requires voters to have identification with a verifiable, physical street address. But those can be hard to come by on reservations, where a post office box is what many residents have long relied on.