The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a last-ditch effort by Republicans to block all-mail voting in the general election in 45 Montana counties, clearing the way for ballots to be mailed to all registered voters on Friday.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, without comment, denied a request for an emergency order to stop counties from mailing out ballots while a GOP-led lawsuit challenging mail-voting is appealed in federal court.
Raph Graybill, the state’s lead counsel on the case, hailed the Supreme Court order as a “victory for democracy, secure voting and common sense.”
“No Montanan should have to choose between their vote and exposure to COVID-19,” he said. “The pandemic has produced intense challenges for Montana, and I’m honored to have fought for Montanans’ right to vote safely and securely by mail.”
As many as 600,000 ballots are expected to be mailed to registered Montana voters Friday, starting the voting for the Nov. 3 general election. Eleven counties have chosen to maintain polling stations on Election Day, but they still mailed ballots Friday to those requesting absentee ballots.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula rejected two lawsuits by several state and national Republican groups, officials and candidates seeking to invalidate Gov. Steve Bullock’s Aug. 6 order that allowed counties to use all-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election.
County election officials had requested the order because of fears about in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ravalli County Republican Central Committee and five voters from Park and Stillwater counties – two of whom are Republican candidates for the Legislature – appealed Christensen’s order to the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.
The Circuit Court will hear the appeal, but not until January, prompting the plaintiffs to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the counties from mailing ballots Friday.
The suits said Bullock violated state law and the U.S. constitution when he gave Montana counties the power to decide whether to use all-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 general election.
Only the Legislature has the power to allow all-mail ballots for a statewide election, and all-mail ballots could lead to election fraud and dilute the power of legitimate votes, the suit said.
Christensen said in his ruling that the Republican plaintiffs produced no evidence of voter fraud in Montana, connected with mail ballots, and that the June primary election had been held via mail without any serious problems.
Bullock issued the order under his emergency powers during the Covid-19 pandemic.