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Unproven Election Fraud Claims Propel MT Voting-Restriction Bills

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Republicans made big gains in the Montana Legislature in the 2020 election. (pabrady63/Adobe Stock)
Republicans made big gains in the Montana Legislature in the 2020 election. (pabrady63/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
March 22, 2021

HELENA, Mont. -- Critics are pushing back on measures in Montana they say would restrict voting access.

Bills introduced this session would end voter registration on the day of elections, require photo ID's both to register and vote in person, and restrict ballot collecting, a common practice on reservations.

Keaton Sunchild, political director for the group Western Native Voice, said state Republicans proposing the legislation claim there was fraud in the 2020 election, despite their party's big gains in the state Legislature and in the governor's office.

He said fraud claims are part of a national narrative, but Montanans typically subscribe to a brand of politics unique to the state.

"These pieces of legislation we're seeing peddled stand in direct contrast to that very way of life," Sunchild argued. "And that's why we're just a little bit confused as to why some parts of the election seem to be OK, but some parts don't."

The bill restricting ballot collection, House Bill 406, has a hearing in the Senate today.

Lawmakers in support of the efforts have been pushing for election integrity, saying the state needs to secure its elections, and that voting comes with responsibilities, such as registering before election day.

Jim Elliott, former Democratic state representative and senator from Trout Creek, said lawmakers' fraud claims don't have much evidence to back them up.

The Heritage Foundation has a database of voter-fraud cases going back to 1975. It only lists one in Montana.

Elliott asserted the soul of democracy is embodied in the right to vote.

"We spent almost two and a half centuries expanding the franchise," Elliott observed. "And why is it being turned back? Well, it's being turned back essentially because there is a huge misconception about voter fraud."

The ballot-collection bill in the Legislature is nearly identical to the Ballot Interference Protection Act, which was struck down in September.

Sunchild pointed out the voting method is common on reservations, where post offices or voting locations might be far away.

His group and others instead are supporting the Native American Voting Rights Act, which would lower barriers for voting, such as requiring two permanent satellite election offices on reservations.

"Give Native Americans on reservations the same protections that non-reservation folks have here in Montana," Sunchild urged.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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