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HELENA — Last month, Montana Free Press added a roundup of pertinent information for primary voters to its 2020 election guide. In the weeks since, a pair of legal cases have necessitated some updates to that FAQ. Here’s what’s happened so far.
On May 1, five tribal governments and two Native voting rights organizations filed a motion in Yellowstone County District Court seeking a temporary injunction against Montana’s Ballot Interference Prevention Act. BIPA, which was approved by Montana voters on the 2018 ballot, established a strict set of regulations for the collection and delivery of ballots on behalf of voters. District Judge Jessica Fehr granted the temporary injunction May 20 and set a hearing date for May 29.
Then, on May 22, Yellowstone County District Court Judge Donald Harris issued a ruling in a separate legal challenge brought by former state Sen. Robyn Driscoll, the Montana Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That challenge also sought an injunction against BIPA, in addition to a suspension of state law requiring that mail ballots be received by county election officials no later than 8 p.m. on June 2 in order to be counted. Harris’ ruling granted both requests, allowing county election officials during the primary to count all ballots that are postmarked on or before June 2.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox responded May 22 with a motion, filed on behalf of Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, to stay Harris’ ruling and halt the ballot deadline change. Fox followed that up with a May 26 filing urging the Montana Supreme Court to take up the matter immediately.
In response to Fox’s motion, the state Supreme Court on May 27 issued an order reinstating the 8 p.m. June 2 deadline for receipt of ballots by county election officials. The order also rejected Stapleton’s petition that the Supreme Court forego the normal appeals process and exercise supervisory control. As the court noted, Stapleton’s request did not challenge the lower court’s injunction against the Ballot Interference Prevention Act, so that injunction remains in effect.
Montana Free Press will update its election guide as further developments unfold.
This story and its headline were update May 27, 2020, to include the Montana Supreme Court’s May 27 order.