President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) are suing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, a Republican. The plaintiffs claim that Bullock’s Aug. 6 directive “purporting to allow universal vote-by-mail balloting for the November 2020 election” is a “brazen power grab” that violates the “Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” as well as the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The result is a patchwork election code that has varying deadlines and procedures across Montana’s 56 counties. 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 lawsuit said. The allegation is that Bullock impermissibly changed the “time, place, and manner in which Montanans will participate in the November 3, 2020 congressional election.”
“Defendants are not ‘the Legislature,’ and therefore have no power under the Elections Clause to determine the time, place, or manner of congressional elections,” the lawsuit went on. “The Legislature could not, and did not, delegate to the Governor the power to suspend and re-write the state’s election laws.”
The Aug. 6 directive said that Montana has a “simple, clear, well-established set of procedures in law that govern mail elections,” adding that “existing law provides opportunities for Montanans to vote early—at any time during the voting period.” Bullock said that the directive was meant to prevent Montanans from having to choose between “whether to vote in person, risking exposure to COVID-19, or to stay at home” and not vote:
The Directive implements most of the measures that were put into place for the June 2020 primary election, with some changes aimed at improving procedures and adopting recommendations from county election administrators. As with the March 25, 2020 Directive, this Directive permits counties, at their local discretion, to expand access to voting by mail and early voting. Additionally, the Directive continues measures that require all counties to ensure appropriate social distancing to make voting and voter registration safe for all Montanans. This Directive applies only to the 2020 general election.
Current law permits in-person voting during the entire voting period. Therefore, even in counties that opt for vote-by-mail, in-person voting will still be permitted. Giving the counties the option to invoke mail balloting procedures is intended to shift the default position from voting in person to voting by mail. The default under current law—voting in person—poses too many risks in the State’s fight against COVID-19. The success of the June 2020 primary election, as reviewed by Montana’s bipartisan election administrators, has left me confident that the best course of action is to empower local leaders to make the choice for how to administer the election in a manner best suited to their communities’ public and civic health needs.
The Trump campaign clearly disagreed, insinuating that Bullock had ulterior motives.
“The Governor’s power grab under the cover of COVID-19 is particularly egregious,” the lawsuit said. “The Governor is running for U.S. Senate as a member of the Democratic Party, and his race is one of the most competitive in the country. 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. This action cannot stand.”
The campaign wants a U.S. District Court in Montana to block the “illegal” directive and declare it unconstitutional.
“Moreover, in his haste, the Governor created a system that will violate eligible citizens’ right to vote. By allowing vote-by-mail ballots to be automatically sent to every voter— including voters who have moved, voters who have died, and voters who don’t want a ballot—he created a recipe for disaster,” the suit continued. “Rushing to automatically mail ballots to all voters invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting. Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
[Image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
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