The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and Native American Rights Fund have filed a lawsuit to challenge Montana’s new Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA), which they claim makes it more difficult for Native Americans to cast ballots.
Many Native American reservations in Montana are geographically isolated and lack postal service. Therefore, Native Americans depend on voting organizations to collect and transport ballots to election offices that would otherwise be inaccessible. BIPA has set new restrictions on who can collect ballots and how many ballots can be collected. This reduces what used to be 80 ballots to only six.
The lawsuit argues that the new law prevents Native Americas from voting.
“We are urging the court to immediately block this law that would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters who live on rural reservations,” Alora Thomas-Lundborg, ACLU staff attorney, said in a statement. “This case is about making sure every eligible voter who wants to vote can actually do so.”
BIPA also institutes a fine of up to $500 for bringing ballots to the post office on behalf of relatives and neighbors. BIPA defines a family member as “an individual who is related to the voter by blood, marriage, adoption or legal guardianship,” but that definition is incompatible with Indigenous family structures, which include extended family and community members.
“BIPA ignores the everyday realities that face Native American communities. It is not reasonable to expect voters to drive an hour to drop off their ballot, so collecting ballots in reservation communities just makes sense. Criminalizing this behavior is unfair to Native American voters and does nothing to solve the real problem of mail not being picked up and delivered to Native homes,” said Jacqueline De León of the Native American Rights Fund.
Marci McLean, executive director of Western Native Voice, said the new law harms Native Americans’ ability to participate in our democracy. She offered several different solutions, like increasing access to post offices, implementing same-day voter registration at all polling locations and removing the requirement of a stamp to return absentee ballots.