Republican Effort to Hold Down Votes Extends to Montana

     MISSOULA (CN) – The Republican Party is trying to prevent at least 6,000 Montanans from voting by targeting Democratic-leaning districts for “unlawful mass challenges” based on the the difference between voter registration addresses and postal service addresses, says the Montana Democratic Party in Federal Court. Change of address forms sent to the U.S. Postal Service show where people want mail delivered – not necessarily where they live, say the Democrats.

     Democrats say the Republicans hired a company to check the voter registration database against the U.S. Postal Service change of address database and file mass challenges to voters in Democratic-leaning districts. Republicans have told the media that more such challenges are in the works.
     Defendants include Montana Republican Party Jacob Eaton and its Legislative Director Max Hunsaker.
     The Republican Party filed the mass challenge on Sept. 29, 35 days before the general election, the complaint states. “The challenges were filed in traditionally Democratically leaning areas, including Missoula, Lewis & Clark, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, Glacier, Hill, and Roosevelt counties.
     “The Republican defendants have stated publicly in news accounts that more challenges are planned. Absent action by this court, thousands of legitimately registered Montana voters will imminently be informed that their voting rights have been placed in jeopardy, injecting chaos into Montana’s upcoming elections.
     “The challenged were lodged in the form of affidavits claiming that these legally registered electors, over 6,000 of them, no longer resided at the address on their current registration forms. The challenges were sworn to and signed by defendants Eaton and Hunsaker. The affidavits were notarized by Adam Jespersen and Karli Hill. On information and belief, Jespersen is the so-called ‘Special Projects’ Director and Hill the so-called ‘Grass Roots’ Director of the Montana Republican Party.”
     The Republicans hired Integram to check the Post Office’s National Change of Address (NCOA) database against the voting rolls. But Democrats say the “NCOA records are collected for the purpose of recording a change of mailing preference. They are not intended to reflect, and do not reflect, a change in residence, for purposes of Montana statutory law or otherwise. Conversely, Montana law lists a variety of statutory criteria to determine the residency of an eligible elector; the location at which an individual prefers to receive mail is not one of the statutory criteria. See § 13-1-112, MCA. Accordingly, NCOA records may not alone serve as sufficient evidence of a change of residence to support or sustain a challenge under Montana or federal law. …
     “The challenge affidavits to more than 6,000 registered electors here allege, based solely on the NCOA records, that each voter no longer resides at the address shown on his or her voter registration, and that the voter therefore no longer meets the requirements of a registered elector under § 13-1-111(1), MCA.”
     Plaintiffs, including two people who say they were disenfranchised, say the Republican Party is trying to rig the election through a “massive voter suppression scheme” through “baseless and discriminatory challenges against Montana voters” that rely “upon affidavits falsely asserting that legitimate voters do not reside where they reside.”
     They claim this violates the National Voter Registration Act and the First and 14th Amendments. They want the mass challenges, based upon the NCOA, enjoined.
     Plaintiffs are represented by John Mudd with Mudd Nelson of Missoula.

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