HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) – The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled that a legislative referendum aimed at ending Election Day registration will appear on the ballot this November, so long as the state’s attorney general tweaks the language.
If passed by voters, Legislative Referendum No. 126, crafted by state legislators in 2013 to change Montana’s voter registration laws, will eliminate same-day voter registration by amending the deadline for late registration to the Friday before an election.
A collection of unions and activist groups had petitioned the Montana Supreme Court to strike the referendum from the 2014 ballot.
Court records show the petitioners challenged the legal sufficiency of LR-126, claiming Attorney General Tim Fox failed to properly review the ballot issue and should have rejected the referendum due to false language regarding compliance with the National Voters Registration Act in the bill’s title.
They argued that the title would mislead voters by suggesting that the NVRA and federal law require ending same-day voter registration, which is false.
Nonetheless, on Feb. 5 the Montana high court denied the petitioners’ request to declare LR-126 legally deficient and void, court records show.
However, justices did, in order to dispel confusion, order a revision of the statement of purpose to clarify that the NVRA does not require elimination of election-day voter registration, tasking the attorney general to draft a revised statement.
The Supreme Court approved the decision 5-1, with justice Michael Wheat dissenting.
“I would grant petitioners’ request to strike LR-126 from the ballot,” Wheat wrote in his dissenting opinion. “It is undeniable that same-day voter registration has absolutely nothing to do with compliance with the NVRA.
“It now will go back to the attorney general to revise the ballot statement … I am skeptical that the defect can be cured, but anxious to see how the attorney general works his magic.”
Congress passed the NVRA in 1993 to require states to implement measures to make voter registration easier.
The petitioners who challenged LR-126 are the MEA-MFT, the Montana State AFL-CIO, the Montana Public Employees Association, the Montana Human Rights Network, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Montana Women Vote and Western Native Voice.
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