BILLINGS — Montana Youth Action, Forward Montana Foundation, and Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) have filed a lawsuit challenging three recently passed laws that restrict young Montanans’ access to voting. 

The challenged bills include Senate Bill 169, which changes voter identification requirements and limits the use of student ID; House Bill 506, which prohibits ballot distribution to individuals who will but do not yet meet age- and residency- based voter eligibility criteria; and House Bill 176, which eliminates election day registration. The complaint calls out these bills for unconstitutionally burdening Montana’s fundamental right to vote with cause, let alone a compelling reason. 

Montanans should take pride in the dramatic increase in youth voter turnout since 2014, when only 18 percent of voters under age 30 casted a ballot. By contrast, in 2020, 56 percent of young Montanans turned out to vote. This rise in the proportion of young Montana voters is among the highest in the nation. 

In passing these bills, the Montana State Legislature is punishing young voters who are disproportionately impacted by voter suppression bills. 

About bringing this challenge, Scout McMahon, Initiatives Chair of Montana Youth Action issued the following statement: 

"Young Montanans are engaged and eager to participate in civic life. But when restrictions are placed on youth, the hurdles imposed make it incredibly difficult for us to make our voices heard. And when the voices of young people are stifled, our democracy fails to reflect the lived experiences of entire generations. 

To create lifelong habits of civic engagement and voting, we must be allowed access to the ballot box. HB 506 literally disenfranchises Montana's youngest voters, making it impossible for certain individuals to receive their ballots in advance of elections, despite being registered and qualified to vote on election day." 

Kiersten Iwai, Executive Director at Forward Montana Foundation: 

“Montana voters have already spoken on this issue. In 2014, the overwhelming majority of voters confirmed their support for Election Day registration. Since then, tens of thousands of Montanans have relied on this service.

Facilitative voter laws like Election Day registration strengthen our democracy by providing more opportunities for people like me, a working young woman of color, to access the ballot. We should be celebrating services like Election Day registration, not removing it.” 

Liz Albers, Executive Director of MontPIRG: 

“As we told the Montana Legislature during the session, SB 169, HB 176, and HB 506 are . It’s clear that 

MontPIRG has and will continue to stand against any attempt to block access to the ballot.” 

About the plaintiffs:

Montana Youth Action empowers youth in Big Sky Country to make a difference through politics, civics, and service to communities in Montana. Montana Youth Action has middle and high school student chapters across the state. 

Forward Montana Foundation educates, engages, and organizes young Montanans to shape their democracy to improve their lives and the lives of their fellow Montanans. 

The Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) is a student directed and funded nonpartisan organization dedicated to effective, tangible, positive change through education and empowering the next generation of civic leaders. 

About Upper Seven Law: 

Upper Seven Law is a Montana-based nonprofit law firm dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. Based on the belief that creativity and innovation in law are essential to advancing social justice and public interest objectives, Upper Seven takes smart risks and invests the time necessary to build foundations for long-term accountability work.

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