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Montana Registration Challenges Are Error-Prone

Montana Registration Challenges are Error-Prone and Inconsistent with State & Federal Law
– 10/06/08

For Immediate Release:

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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