Montana Youth Action et al. v. Secretary of State

During the 2021 legislative session, the Montana state legislature passed a cocktail of laws burdening Montanans' right of suffrage. Three youth civic engagement organizations--Montana Youth Action, Forward Montana Foundation, and the Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG)--have brought this lawsuit to challenge three of those laws, recognizing that the cumulative effect of burdensome voting laws falls with particular weight on young voters. The three laws challenged here include Senate Bill 169, which downgrades student ID to a second-class form of voter ID, Section 2 of House Bill 506, which prohibits ballot distribution to voters who will but do not yet meet age- and residency-based voter registration criteria, and House Bill 176, which eliminates election day voter registration. Together and separately, these laws unconstitutionally burden Montanans’ fundamental right to vote, subverting the will of Montana voters and upending norms that Montana voters have come to rely on. This case has been consolidated with two others that challenge two of the same laws, as well as House Bill 530, which prohibits paid ballot collection and likewise burdens Montanans' right of suffrage.

On April 6, 2022, the court granted Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. On May 17, 2022, the Montana Supreme Court granted the State's motion for a stay of the injunction as to two of the four enjoined laws. As a result, Election Day registration is unavailable for the June 2022 primary election—voters need to be registered before noon on June 6, 2022and the ID requirements align with the law passed in 2021. That is, voters must show either a primary ID form or two secondary forms of ID.

These laws went to trial on August 15, 2022.

On September 30th, 2022, the Court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The order permanently enjoins the Secretary of State from enforcing House Bill 176, which eliminated election day registration, Senate Bill 169, which complicated voter identification requirements and limited the use of student ID, and House Bill 530, which barred paid ballot collection. In July, the Court also permanently enjoined House Bill 506, which prevented new voters from accessing absentee ballots or voting early in-person until they actually turned 18.

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

Press Release

Filings / Press

Eric Tegethoff, Youth Groups File to Stop New MT Election Laws Before 2022 Primary, Public News Service (Jan. 19, 2022)

Darrell Ehrlich, Judge hears groups’ arguments to issue preliminary injunction against four voting rights laws, (Mar. 10, 2022)

Alex Sakariassen, Making the case on voting rights, Montana Free Press (Mar. 10, 2022)

Amy Beth Hanson, Judge hears arguments in challenges over new election laws, Associated Press (Mar. 10, 2022)

Sam Wilson, Judge blocks 4 new voting laws backed by MT GOP, Helena Independent Record (April 6, 2022)

Alex Sakariassen, District court blocks new voting laws, Montana Free Press (April 6, 2022)

Ashley Nerbovig, Judge temporarily halts several new Montana voting laws ahead of statewide election, KTVH Helena (April 6, 2022)

Amy Beth Hanson, Montana judge temporarily blocks new election laws, Associated Press (April 6, 2022)

Bench Trial (August 15th - August 26th, 2022)

Amy Beth Hanson, Trial starts in challenge to new Montana voting laws, Associated Press (August 15, 2022)

Jackie Coffin, Trial begins for controversial new voting laws, heard by Billings judge, KTVQ Billings (August 15, 2022)

Missoula Current, Trial challenging new Montana laws restricting young voters to begin, (August 15, 2022)

Darrell Ehrlick, New laws create confusion, treat voters differently witnesses testify, Daily Montanan (August 18, 2022)

Keith Schubert, Election, disability experts testify as trial over election laws enters week two, Daily Montanan (August 22, 2022)

Darrell Ehrlick, State rep testifies GOP leadership wanted laws to make it harder for youth to vote in Montana, Daily Montanan (August 23, 2022)

Jackie Coffin, Montana voting rights trial moves into second week; state lawmaker testifies, KTVQ Billings (August 23, 2022)

Darrell Ehrlick, State senator admits laws could disenfranchise voters, but believes habits will change, Daily Montanan (August 24, 2022)

Shaylee Ragar, Trial over the legality of Montana's new voting restrictions ends, Montana Public Radio (August 29, 2022)

Mariah Thomas, MontPIRG, Montana Youth Action win final case for election day voter registration, use of college ID, Montana Kaimin (September 30, 2022)

Sam Wilson, GOP election laws violate MT Constitution, judge rules, Independent Record (September 30, 2022)

Alex Sakariassen, Judge: New voter laws “unconstitutional” and permanently enjoined, Montana Free Press (September 30, 2022)

Darrell Ehrlick, Judge strikes down three Montana voting laws as unconstitutional, Daily Montanan (September 30, 2022)

Shaylee Ragar, Judge strikes down voting restrictions, saying they 'severely' burden voting rights, Montana Public Radio (September 30, 2022)

Meridith Depping, Election laws passed during 2021 Montana Legislative Session ruled unconstitutional, KULR8 (September 30, 2022)

Jonathon Ambarian, Montana district judge rules three election laws unconstitutional, KTVH Helena (September 30, 2022)

Missoula Current, ‘Unconstitutional:’ Court Overturns 3 Montana GOP Election Laws (September 30, 2022)

NBC Montana, Montana court rules 2 state voting laws unconstitutional (September 30, 2022)

Alex Sakariassen, How Montana’s new election laws failed legal muster, Montana Free Press (October 6, 2022)