This story was written by Kelsey Bernius, Montana Kaimin
The Montana Democratic Party and two registered Missoula County voters filed a complaint Monday in response to the Montana GOP questioning the eligibility of 6,000 Montana voters in the upcoming election. According to the complaint, the Republican Party is injecting chaos into Montanas upcoming election by questioning the legality of the voters. The GOP is challenging voter eligibility of 6,000 people who moved or did not update their addresses. The Democratic Party and plaintiffs point out that the way the GOP came up with the list of ineligible voter is illegal.
Montana law lists a variety of statutory criteria to determine the residency of an eligible elector, the complaint read. The location at which an individual prefers to receive mail is not one of the statutory criteria. A judge will soon decide whether or not the Republicans challenges are justifiable and if letters explaining to voters their eligibility statues should be sent in the mail.
Kevin OBrien, Montana Democratic Party spokesman, said the party is asking for an immediate restraining order on the 6,000 letters. We expect action on this within the week, OBrien said. But some counties have already mailed out the notices.
Vickie Zeier, the Missoula County Clerk and Recording Treasurer, said Missoula Country would not be sending the letters to registered voters unless a judge orders it.
The letters were ready to be mailed Friday, Zeier said. Now were just waiting for the judges orders. Zeier said. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 was also referenced in the complaint as the act prohibits states from removing the names of voters because they changed their addresses.
The only way to remove names from voter rolls is if the registered voter confirms the change in writing or fails to vote in the two general-election cycles after receiving a federal notice in the mail, according to the act. Of the thousands of challenged voters in Montana, 49.13 percent are under the age of 30 and 71.27 percent are younger than 40.
Local political awareness group Forward Montana also planned to file a lawsuit against the Republican Party. Since the Democratic Party has beaten the group to the punch, Forward Montana says it no longer plans on filing a separate suit.
I think its pretty clear based on the complaint that these challenges (by the Republican Party) have no merit, Forward Montana CEO Matt Singer said. Forward Montana is currently organizing a Web site so people can see if theyre among the challenged voters. The site, http://www.MontanaVoterSupression.org, officially launched late Monday afternoon. It really will be a great tool, especially for college students, Director of Operations John Bacino said.
Bridger Pierce, Montana Republican Party communications director, said at this time he doesnt know if the GOP will continue to question more voter validity in other counties like the party said they were planning on doing last week. Students across the country fall victim to misinformation regarding their voter status and eligibility, according to the non-partisan group Election Protection, in a press release from Oct. 2.
During the 2008 primaries, Election Protection found that many eligible voters across the country lost their right to vote because of inaccurate information and voter rolls, poorly trained poll workers and problems with voting machines. Deficiencies in the electoral process are of particular concern to the important voting block of students which includes first-time voters who are not familiar with the election system.
Plaintiffs Joseph Breitenbach and Cynthia Anne Green, both legally registered voters in Missoula Country, could not be reached for comment because their involvemen in the lawsuit prohibits them from speaking to the media.