(KPAX) Citing both the lack of evidence of voter fraud and the “compelling public health concerns”, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen on Wednesday rejected a request by Republicans to stop Montana’s use of vote-by-mail.
The decision came in a 46-page ruling issued in the case involving the Trump campaign, Governor Steve Bullock and groups like the League of Women Voters.
The two suits had been filed earlier this month challenging Governor’s Bullock August directive, which allowed county election officials to decide where to conduct the General election entirely through the mail because of concerns about the pandemic.
In the order, Judge Christensen said the case “required the court to separate fact from fiction”. But he cited the lack of evidence of fraud, especially with the June Primary, saying the allegation there would be “widespread voter fraud” in November, “specifically in Montana, is fiction.”
He said the Republicans hadn’t introduced “an ounce of evidence” that the General election will be “ripe with fraud.”
Christensen noted there wasn’t a single case of fraud in the Primary, “due in large part” to Montana’s long history of absentee voting, and the “experience, dedication and skill” of Montana’s “seasoned election administrators”
The judge said “the Court has no trouble concluding the COVID19 pandemic constitutes a disaster and emergency”, upholding Bullock’s authority to issue his directive.
“The Lead-Plaintiffs also allege that the Directive infringes on the right to vote because the “sudden surge in mail ballots” will result in requested ballots never arriving, arriving too late, or completed ballots getting lost or delayed in the return process. But this contention suffers from the same fatal flaw as that based on voter fraud, an utter lack of any supporting evidence,” Christensen wrote.
The judge said it would be “strongly against the public interest” to upset the current election, in which “45 counties” are planning to use vote-by-mail, with voters already expecting to cast ballots that way. And he cited Montana’s rising case numbers, saying “contrary to Plaintiffs’ assertions that Montana is out of the woods and free from the virus that continues to cripple society across the globe, Montana continues to struggle with outbreaks across the state”, finding stopping Bullock’s directive “would only accelerate” the number of COVID19 cases “Montana now faces.”
Bullock greeted the ruling with a formal statement:
“There is nothing more sacred in our democracy than the right to vote and no duty of government more important than to keep its citizens safe,” the governor said. “I’m pleased that today’s decision will enable hundreds of thousands of Montanans to vote safely – in person or by mail – this coming election. Montanans can rest assured that our local election administrators will preserve the security and integrity of the election process.”
Forty-five of Montana’s 56 counties will mail ballots to voters in early October, although most are making provisions for some limited in-person voting, or the ability to drop off ballots.
Read Gov. Bullock’s full statement below:
Governor Steve Bullock today issued the following statement regarding a decision by the United States District Court for the District of Montana that affirms the decisions by local counties to expand vote by mail and early voting in Montana for the November election.
“There is nothing more sacred in our democracy than the right to vote, and no duty of government more important than to keep its citizens safe,” said Governor Bullock. “I’m pleased that today’s decision will enable hundreds of thousands of Montanans to vote safely – in person or by mail – this coming election. Montanans can rest assured that our local election administrators will preserve the security and integrity of the election process.”
The Court’s decision is the first in the country that follows a full trial on efforts to undermine mail ballots. The Court rejected all of the claims against Montana’s early voting and mail ballot option.
In August, Governor Bullock issued a directive to ensure all eligible Montanans can safely vote in the 2020 November election by allowing counties, at their discretion, to expand vote by mail and early voting. Forty-six of Montana’s fifty-six counties opted to do so, and all counties are required to offer in person voting and take precautions to protect from COVID-19. This was the same directive issued for the June primary election.