A federal judge on Wednesday rejected an effort by the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee to block an expansion of mail-in voting in Montana after the GOP plaintiffs failed to present to the court a single example of voter fraud in the state within the past two decades.
"This case requires the court to separate fact from fiction," Judge Dana Christensen of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana wrote in his 46-page ruling (pdf). "Central to some of the plaintiffs' claims is the contention that the upcoming election, both nationally and in Montana, will fall prey to widespread voter fraud. The evidence suggests, however, that this allegation, specifically in Montana, is a fiction."
"Today's decision will enable hundreds of thousands of Montanans to vote safely—in person or by mail—this coming election."
—Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
Christensen went on to note that during hearings on the lawsuit filed last month against Montana's secretary of state and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, the Trump campaign and RNC "were compelled to concede that they cannot point to a single instance of voter fraud in Montana in any election during the last 20 years."
"Importantly, Montana's use of mail ballots during the recent primary election did not give rise to a single report of voter fraud," Christensen wrote. "There is no record of election fraud in Montana's recent history, and it is highly unlikely that fraud will occur during the November 3, 2020 general election."
In a statement on Wednesday, Bullock applauded the court's decision to uphold his directive allowing all counties in Montana to conduct the November elections almost entirely by mail—an option thus far chosen by 46 of Montana's 56 counties.
"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," Bullock 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."
Federal court blocks Trump/GOP effort to prevent vote by mail in Montana
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Christensen's ruling represents the latest blow to the Trump campaign's nationwide, multi-million-dollar legal effort to curtail state expansions of mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic. As of mid-September, Buzzfeed counted "at least 11 cases where the Trump campaign has asked judges for permission to intervene to defend state and local policies that voting rights advocates argue will make it harder for people to safely vote during the pandemic."
"That's in addition to more than half a dozen lawsuits the campaign has filed with the Republican National Committee contesting efforts by Democratic governors and other state and local officials to expand mail-in voting," Buzzfeed noted.
Paul Smith, vice president at Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement following the Montana decision that every state in the U.S. "should ensure that every eligible citizen has a convenient way to vote in the election," which is just over 30 days away.
"Absentee and mail voting are important ways to ensure that seniors and others at high risk from Covid-19 can safely participate in the election and have their vote counted," said Smith.