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Case Name Driscoll v. Stapleton VR-MT-0017
Docket / Court DV 20-408 ( State Court )
Additional Docket(s) 20-0295  [ 20-295 ]  Supreme Court (MT)
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
This lawsuit, filed on March 13, 2020, was brought in the Montana state district court for the Thirteenth District in Yellowstone County. The plaintiffs were the Chair of the Montana Democratic Party Robyn Driscoll, the Montana Democratic Party, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and ... read more >
This lawsuit, filed on March 13, 2020, was brought in the Montana state district court for the Thirteenth District in Yellowstone County. The plaintiffs were the Chair of the Montana Democratic Party Robyn Driscoll, the Montana Democratic Party, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and they brought suit against the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. Plaintiffs were represented by private counsel.

The complaint centered around three absentee voting restrictions passed in 2019. The first was the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban, which limited the types of people permitted to take into possession a voter's absentee ballot. Additionally, the Registration Requirement mandated that all people who did take absentee ballots into possession sign a registry giving information about the voter and the person assisting the voter. Finally, the Election Day Cutoff voided all ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day, meaning that if you submitted an absentee ballot by mail you would have to do so a week or more before Election Day to ensure your ballot would be counted. The plaintiffs argued that these provisions represented violations of the Montana constitution's guarantees of suffrage, free speech, and procedural due process. The suffrage claim argued that the benefits to these restrictions were insufficiently weighty to justify the restrictions to the ballot. Regarding free speech, the complaint alleged that the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban and the Registration Requirement imposed barriers to voter turnout efforts, which were a form of political speech. Restrictions on that speech needed to be narrowly tailored and supporting a compelling government interest. Plaintiffs claimed that these provisions did not meet that standard. Finally, the procedural due process arguments claimed that these provisions failed to provide procedural protections necessary to ensure voters' rights to the ballot. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief that would prohibit the state's enforcement of these provisions.

On May 22, the court granted a preliminary injunction that prohibited the state from enforcing both the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban and the Registration Requirement. It also mandated the government to count all ballots postmarked on or before the election day.

The defendants appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. Their June 26 brief argued that the district court erred when they applied a strict scrutiny standard to evaluating Montana's election laws, meaning they mandated that the restrictions be narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest. A month later the plaintiffs filed a brief arguing that the provisions were violations of the fundamental right to vote and were properly enjoined.

Meanwhile, several Native American groups had intervened, siding with the plaintiffs. The Montana Legislatures, represented by the Montana Speaker of the House and Montana State Senate President, also moved to intervene, but their motions were denied on August 11, 2020.

The case is ongoing as of August 13, 2020.

Jack Hibbard - 08/13/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Voting
Voting access
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Voter qualifications
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton
Plaintiff Description MT Democratic Party, DSCC, Chair of MT Democratic Party
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/13/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Montana Absentee Ballot Collection
Democracy Docket
Date: 2020
By: Democracy Docket
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
VR-MT-0017-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/13/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Memorandum, and Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction
VR-MT-0017-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 05/22/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
Petition for Writ of Supervisory Control
VR-MT-0017-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/26/2020
Source: State Court Website
Appellant Corey Stapleton's Opening Brief
VR-MT-0017-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/26/2020
Source: State Court Website
Appellees' Brief
VR-MT-0017-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/27/2020
Source: State Court Website
Intervenors Western Native Voice, Montana Native Vote, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, [...] and Fort Belknap Indian Community's Answer Brief
VR-MT-0017-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/27/2020
Source: State Court Website
show all people docs
Judges Harris, Donald L. Court not on record show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Gordon, Matthew (Washington) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0001 | VR-MT-0017-0005
Meloy, Peter M (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0001 | VR-MT-0017-0005
Rate, Alex (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Brown, Aislinn W (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0003 | VR-MT-0017-0004
Fox, Timothy C. (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0003 | VR-MT-0017-0004
Segrest, J Stuart (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0003 | VR-MT-0017-0004
Tokerud, Hannah E (Montana) show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0003 | VR-MT-0017-0004

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