Montana Registration Challenges Are Error-Prone and Inconsistent With State and Federal Law

For Immediate Release

Brennan Center for Justice
Contact: 

Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452-5637

Montana Registration Challenges Are Error-Prone and Inconsistent With State and Federal Law

Voting Rights Advocates Call on Election Officials to Reject 6,000 Registration Challenges

NEW YORK - Today voting rights advocates at the Brennan Center for Justice
called on Montana election officials to reject the challenges of 6,000
voter registrations, citing the crude basis for the challenges and
their inconsistency with the National Voter Registration Act and
Montana State Law. In a three-page letter
submitted on Sunday to Secretary of State Brad Johnson, the Brennan
Center explains that the large scale challenges, filed by the Montana
Republican Party just a month before the 2008 general election, could
deprive thousands of eligible Montana residents from voting and having
their ballot counted in November.

"This challenge is based on a crude comparison of databases that is
insufficient to contest a voter's eligibility and runs afoul of state
and federal voting laws," said James Sample, Counsel at the Brennan
Center for Justice. "Montana's Secretary of State should reject the
challenge and clarify with voters that their registration is intact and
that they will have no problem voting on Election Day," Sample
continued.

The challenges to Montana voters come on the heels of a new report
from the Brennan Center which finds that millions of voters across the
country are routinely cast from voter rolls under secretive, haphazard
procedures-which are often vulnerable to partisan manipulation. Voter Purges is available on the Brennan Center Website.

The Montana challenges were filed last week across six counties that
have large populations of students, low-income voters and Native
Americans-Missoula, Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge,
Glacier and Hill Counties.

The challenges at issue are based on discrepancies between name
searches in the National Change of Address Database and statewide voter
registration lists. As the Brennan Center letter explains, such a
search may turn up family members of individuals who have moved who
still reside at their registration address, individuals who are voting
residents of their registration address but are temporarily stated
elsewhere, and individuals with the same or similar names as those
residing at other addresses.

Former Montana State Representative Kevin Furey, a First Lieutenant
in the Army Reserves, is one voter whose registration is being
challenged because he is currently in New Jersey-preparing to deploy to
Iraq-even though he is still eligible to vote at his registration
address in Montana.

As the Brennan Center's letter today further explains, under the
National Voter Registration Act, enacted by Congress in 1993, voters
cannot systematically be removed from registration lists within 90 days
of an election. Further, a voter cannot be removed from the voter rolls
on the basis of a change of address unless the voter either confirms in
writing a change of address outside the jurisdiction, or has failed to
respond to a notice sent by the appropriate election office confirming
the voter's address and fails to vote in two federal elections-even if
the U.S. Postal Service indicates that a voter has moved.

"Exploiting change of address information in this way and at this
time is inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act. What's
more-a challenge of this nature is given little, if any, approval by
Montana's election law," said Myrna Pérez, also Counsel at the Brennan
Center.

"As noted on the Secretary of State's website, the right to vote is
one of the most important rights citizens enjoy. We hope the State will
ensure that all eligible Montana voters are able to participate in
November's election-and that means rejecting these challenges and
providing educational materials to county election officials to make it
clear that challenges like these have no place in our elections,"
Sample stated.

"Going forward, we urge the Montana legislature to update its
challenger statute to make sure that the voter safeguards are crystal
clear so that these sorts of shenanigans don't happen again in future
elections," stated Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy
Program at the Brennan Center.

A full copy of the Brennan Center letter submitted to the Montana Secretary of State is available upon request.

 

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