News Release

Voter Challenges: The Montana Example


The Great Falls Tribune of Montana reports that “the Montana Republican Party … challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in six counties that historically are Democratic strongholds.”

James is an attorney for the voting rights organization Project Vote and author of the 2007 report “Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters.” She said today: “Under state and federal laws a person does not lose the right to vote simply because he or she has moved. A Montana citizen can update his or her registration at any time up to and including Election Day, and federal law has clear procedures that must be followed when a change of address form is filed with the United States Postal Office. Private, partisan interference in this lawful process does a disservice to Montana, and to overburdened election officials who work hard to see that all eligible citizens get to vote.”

James added: “These baseless challenges are just the latest in a long series of voter caging operations designed to intimidate voters and winnow voting lists to the challengers’ liking. Like the recently reported attempts to challenge voters in Michigan who appear on foreclosure listings, like the massive challenges of voters that occurred in Ohio in 2004, this latest assault on eligible voters is disguised as a protection against the partisan myth of ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. In reality, voter fraud by individuals is incredibly rare, and the mass challenge plan simply represents a cynical partisan attempt to intimidate eligible Montana residents — a disproportionate number of whom will be low-income citizens, minorities, and residents under 30, all of whom are more likely to move more often.”

James concluded: “In light of the state and federal protections, challenging every voter who has done nothing but file a change of address with the U.S. Post Office would serve no purpose other than to interfere with the orderly conduct of the election and intimidate those voters who are not aware of their legal options under the laws of Montana and the United States. Election officials, not partisan operatives, should decide who is eligible to cast a ballot. … According to U.S. Census data, more than 16 percent of all Americans — largely low-income, minority and young people — changed their residence in 2006. By current estimates, 16 percent of the eligible voting population represents as many as 32 million Americans nationwide. These Americans do not leave their votes behind when they move.”

Background: In this case, the registrations of all voters in these counties who submitted a change-of-address card with the Post Office were challenged. Voters whose registrations were challenged include Army 1st Lt. Kevin Furey, who had directed his mail to his parents’ house while he was deployed in Iraq. Also challenged was Frank St. Pierre, an 86-year old 10-time Medal of Honor winner who helped save thousands of allied troops at Dunkirk during the Second World War — he had moved across town recently.

Six thousand voters is twice the margin of the Montana Senate race in 2006. Two registered voters and the Montana Democratic Party have filed a federal lawsuit on Monday to stop the challenge. In an op-ed published last weekend, Montana’s Lt. Governor John Bohlinger, a Republican, called the challenges “an utter disgrace.”

According to the Great Falls Tribune, there has been no history of voter fraud in Montana. The paper reports that “in 2007, the Legislative Audit Division completed a wide-ranging audit that checked for evidence of deceased individuals voting, incarcerated felons voting or duplicate voting in the 2006 election and found none.”

Forward Montana, a Montana-based nonprofit, has set up a web page helping affected voters.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167