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HomeCampus LifeSuit Protests Montana Law Restricting Voting Efforts on Public Campuses

Suit Protests Montana Law Restricting Voting Efforts on Public Campuses

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Montana Democrats filed another lawsuit Tuesday to challenge Senate Bill 319 — a law banning political activity, such as voter registration drives and political organizing, on state college campuses.

According to the complaint, the Republican-passed legislation is suppressing the “increased political power of Montana’s youngest voters” who commonly vote for Democratic candidates. Additionally, the suit argues that the law “imposes arbitrary, vague, and onerous restrictions on the rights of college students.”

“Rather than celebrate this laudable increase in youth participation, the Montana Legislature chose instead to pass a suite of voter-suppression laws targeting young voters and limiting their access to the franchise,” the suit said.

“By targeting only university residence halls, dining facilities, and athletics facilities, the Legislature made clear its intent: preventing young, newly enfranchised Montanans from participating fully in the political process,” it added.

A Closer Look

In its initial stages, Senate Bill 319 allowed two or more political candidates to create joint fundraising committees. However, before it was passed last May, state lawmakers modified the bill last minute to touch on political organizing on colleges and similar issues. 

Now, all voter registration drives, signature collection efforts, voter identification efforts, ballot collection efforts, or voter turnout efforts are banned from Montana public colleges and universities. Student groups found violating the law would pay $1,000 per offense.

Republican legislators who supported the amendments explained that it was to protect college students from exploitative political efforts.

Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan are named as the defendants in the lawsuit. The bill is also being challenged in other state courts, namely the Lewis and Clark County District Court and the Yellowstone County District Court, on grounds that it violates legislative processes found in the state constitution.

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