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An ongoing legal battle over new election administration laws has resulted in mixed messages and scattered confusion in recent weeks about which of those changes are currently in effect. With school board elections across Montana slated to close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, voters could be forgiven if they wish for a little clarity.

Here’s what we know: Last month, Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses issued an injunction temporarily halting enforcement of several election laws passed by the Montana Legislature in 2021. Two of those laws — House Bill 176 and Senate Bill 169 — deal directly with how and when Montanans can register to vote and cast their ballots. HB 176 ended Election-Day voter registration. Senate Bill 169 revised the types of photo identification Montanans are required to present when registering to vote and casting a ballot at the polls. Moses blocked the registration deadline law in its entirety and also blocked the section of SB 169 dealing with what forms of ID registered voters are required to show when voting in person. 

The state’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, has appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court and asked the high court to put the laws back in effect for this year’s elections while the appeal proceeds. The court has not yet taken action on Jacobsen’s request. In the meantime, based on the relevant laws and court orders and information from elections officials including Jacobsen’s office, here’s where things stand:

Can I still register to vote and cast a ballot in the May 3 school board elections through Election Day?

Yes. Moses’ stay on HB 176 means that the pre-2021 laws are back on and voters can legally register on Election Day. Bear in mind, though, that if you didn’t register by noon Monday, you’ll have to go to your county’s election office or election headquarters by 8 p.m. on May 3 to register and vote.


What forms of photo identification can I use to register?

You’ll need to provide a Montana driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security number to register. If you’re unable to provide any of those, you can use a military or tribal photo ID, a U.S. passport or a Montana concealed carry permit. Any other form of photo identification, including a student ID card, will require a second document with your name and address on it, such as a utility bill, a government check or a bank statement.

What forms of photo identification can I use at the polls if I’m already registered?

First off, in many counties, school board elections are conducted entirely by mail. In that case, registered voters should have been sent a ballot (if you have one you haven’t mailed in yet, you can drop it off at your county’s election office or election headquarters before 8 p.m. Tuesday). If your county or school district is conducting an in-person school board election, you’ll need to present a photo ID when you show up at the polls.

As the litigation currently stands, voters at the polls can use any photo identification with their name that they used in elections prior to 2021. According to the Secretary of State’s office, that list includes a current driver’s license, a current student ID or a current tribal ID. If you do not have a current photo ID, you’ll be required to present a document with your name and address, such as a utility bill, a bank statement, a government check or your voter registration card. A recent update on the Secretary of State’s website also notes that under the court injunction, voters will only be asked to furnish one of those secondary documents.

Who do I contact if I still have questions?

Call your county elections office or county clerk and recorder’s office. If you’re planning to register on Election Day, local election officials can help you with any additional questions then.

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Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...