(CN) — A group of Republican committees — including the principle committee for President Donald Trump’s reelection bid — have filed a federal lawsuit in Montana alleging that Governor Steve Bullock usurped the power of the Legislature when he issued a directive that would allow universal vote-by-mail balloting in November.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to shape how voters around the county are preparing to cast their ballots, states and local governments nationwide have found themselves scrambling for ways to ensure that voters’ rights are protected even amid a global health crisis.
One such measure many states have endorsed is the broadening of mail-in-ballot options that would allow a voter to cast their ballot through the mail without having to attend a face-to-face polling location.
Early in August, Bullock announced that mail-in-ballot options would be sweepingly expanded throughout the Treasure State, issuing a directive that allowed all of Montana’s 56 counties to hold all-mail elections this November.
The governor said in the announcement that while in-person voting would still be allowed, giving counties the option to hold mail-in elections would help to ensure that voters’ health and right to vote could be equally protected.
“Locally elected officials best understand the voting needs of their communities, and taking this action now ensures they will have the time to make the right decisions for their localities,” the governor said. “With this approach we can protect that fundamental right to vote, while easing crowding and pressure on voting on Election Day.”
Some Republicans, however, have taken issue with Bullock’s mail-in-ballot expansion.
A series of GOP committees, including the Republican National Committee and Donald J. Trump for President Inc., Trump’s chief reelection organization, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Bullock and Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton with allegations that the governor’s directive was a blatant overstep of his authority.
The lawsuit alleges that the state Legislature, not the governor, has the power to issue such an order and seeks an injunction to stop it.
The lawsuit claims that while the order is not only an overstep of the governor’s power, it also created a series of different voting deadlines and rules that could prove disastrous for Montana’s counties and should be tossed before Election Day draws nearer.
“The result is a patchwork election code that has varying deadlines and procedures across Montana’s 56 counties,” the 34-page complaint states. “This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Governor’s directive is invalid and must be enjoined.”
The complaint further claims that by allowing a mail-in-ballot to be sent to every voter, including “voters who have moved, voters who have died, and voters who don’t want a ballot,” the governor’s directive has made it easier for voter fraud to take place throughout the state.
The lawsuit alleges that this kind of voter initiative will only invite voter theft and illegitimate ballot casting that will unfairly influence the election and dilute votes that were cast properly.
Wednesday’s lawsuit largely falls in line with statements Trump himself has made that have railed against mail-in-ballots and warned of massive potential voter fraud.
Many experts and media reports, however, have cautioned against the president’s assertions against mail-in-ballots, contending that there is no evidence of such fraud.
Wednesday’s complaint also alleges the governor’s voter-expansion measures are not just an invitation to invite fraud, but are also politically motivated.
The lawsuit alleges that the Democratic Party has been itching to implement changes in how elections are carried out for some time, including through broadening vote-by-mail measures, but efforts that have not succeeded. The lawsuit claims that Democrats are now using the global health crisis as a way to implement such changes.
“But Democrats have largely been unable to convince state Legislatures to adopt them,” the lawsuit states. “So they are now using the COVID-19 crisis as a means to accomplish their goals via litigation and, like here, executive fiat.”
Republicans suggest that Bullock himself had a personal motive to issue the ballot initiative. They claim that with Bullock on the ballot for a Montana U.S. Senate seat this November, the governor is attempting to use his authority to boost his chances in the upcoming race.
“So he is using his current position to force a brand-new election system on Montanans that, according to his own party, will sway the election in his favor,” according to the complaint.
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