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Case Name Driscoll v. Stapleton VR-MT-0017
Docket / Court DV 20-408 ( State Court )
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
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 a voter submitted an absentee ballot by mail they would have to do so a week or more before Election Day to ensure that the 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 contended 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. 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 contended that the district court erred when they applied a strict scrutiny standard to evaluating Montana's election laws. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argued that statutes violated their fundamental right to vote and were therefore properly enjoined.

Meanwhile, several Native American groups had intervened, siding with the plaintiffs. These Native American groups were litigating similar issues in Western Native Voices v. Stapleton, but because the appeal in that case would not be decided before the election, the Montana Supreme Court decided to let them intervene here. More information about Western Native Voices v. Stapleton can be found here. 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.

In an opinion written by Justice Beth Baker and published on September 29, 2020, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the district court's preliminary injunction against the election-day ballot deadline, but affirmed the preliminary injunction against the ballot-delivery restriction. The case is now closed.

Jack Hibbard - 08/13/2020
Justin Hill - 12/18/2020


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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
Vote dilution
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 Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/13/2020
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Montana Absentee Ballot Collection
Democracy Docket
Date: 2020
By: Democracy Docket
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
State Trial Court
03/13/2020
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
VR-MT-0017-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Public.Resource.Org
State Trial Court
05/22/2020
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Memorandum, and Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction
VR-MT-0017-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Public.Resource.Org
State Supreme Court
05/26/2020
Petition for Writ of Supervisory Control
VR-MT-0017-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
06/26/2020
Appellant Corey Stapleton's Opening Brief
VR-MT-0017-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/27/2020
Appellees' Brief
VR-MT-0017-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
07/27/2020
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
Source: State Court Website
State Supreme Court
09/29/2020
Opinion (473 P.3d 386)
VR-MT-0017-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Baker, Beth Court not on record show/hide docs
VR-MT-0017-0007
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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