Lawyers for President Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party are pulling out all the stops to make it hard to vote this fall. They’ve pinned their case on the fantasy that voting by mail—a safe approach to casting ballots in the midst of a pandemic—will lead to widespread voter fraud.
Unfortunately for these legal humbugs, the facts keep catching up with them. That’s what has happened in Montana, where, this week, ballots are being mailed to hundreds of thousands of registered voters after a federal judge issued a groundbreaking decision that the GOP’s voter-fraud story line is “a fiction.” That’s not just one jurist’s opinion; on Thursday, the US Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal by Republican lawyers to reverse it.
At a point when the president and his minions have been working in states across the country to upend voting by mail, Montana is sending a clear signal that has national consequences—legally and politically. “The Court’s decision is the first in the country that follows a full trial on efforts to undermine mail ballots,” notes the office of Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “The Court rejected all of the claims against Montana’s early voting and mail ballot option.”
Republicans have been desperate to rig Montana’s voting to favor embattled Republican Senator Steve Daines. A cipher of a senator, Daines is best known for silencing Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general. Before Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell joined in with his infamous announcement—“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”—it was Daines, sitting as the presiding chair of the Senate, who interrupted Warren’s reading of a letter Coretta Scott King had written about Sessions. That interruption set in motion a process that would eventually see Daines prevent Warren from completing her speech, curtly declaring from the chair, “The senator will take her seat.”
Daines is now locked in a tight reelection race with Bullock, a popular Democrat who has won three statewide elections. If Bullock beats Daines, there’s a real prospect that Democrats could flip the Senate and oust McConnell as majority leader. That’s made Montana a mission-critical state for the Republican voter-suppression machine.
The GOP’s legal strategy in Montana—as in a number of other states that have seen preelection litigation—embraced Trump’s debunked critique of voting by mail and sought to upend the process by blocking the vast majority of Montana counties from using the US Postal Service to conduct this fall’s election.
In response to the threat to voter safety posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Montana’s 56 counties conducted the state’s June primary by mail. And, as it became clear that Covid-19 remained a threat, Bullock issued an August emergency declaration that suspended a state law that prevented fall general elections from being conducted on an all-mail basis. The governor’s move drew an immediate response from the GOP. The president’s reelection campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican National Committee, and the Montana Republican State Central Committee filed suit to block voting by mail. The Republican Speaker of the Montana House and the Republican president of the Montana Senate joined in, as did county parties and candidates. High-powered lawyers associated with out-of-state law firms assembled to press the party’s case.
When they got in front of the judge, however, everything fell apart. Asked to provide evidence of voter fraud in Montana, the Republicans had nothing, and US District Judge Dana Christensen rejected their complaint. “When pressed during the hearing in this matter, the plaintiffs were compelled to concede that they cannot point to a single instance of voter fraud in Montana in any election during the last 20 years,” wrote the federal judge, who noted, “Importantly, Montana’s use of mail ballots during the recent primary election did not give rise to a single report of voter fraud.”
So this week, the 45 Montana counties that have chosen to go with voting by mail will dispatch ballots to registered voters.
Despite the president’s lies and the disingenuous interventions of Republican legal fantasists, the court’s ruling has enabled Montana to hold an election where votes can be cast safely, says Bullock, who argues, “There is nothing more sacred in our democracy than the right to vote, and no duty of government more important than to keep its citizens safe.”