Montana suffrage lawsuit enters second week; state legislator testifies

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BILLINGS — This is the seventh day of a suffrage trial in Montana, in which a Yellowstone County judge is hearing arguments on three new voting laws passed in the 2021 legislative session.

On Tuesday, a key witness for the plaintiffs spoke, bringing the unique perspective of a lawmaker deeply involved in voting rights legislation in Montana.

Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, served in the Montana Legislature for eight years, representing House District 39, an area covering all of Treasure County and parts of Rosebud, Custer and Yellowstone counties.

Prior to serving in the legislature, Custer served as a clerk and recorder in Rosebud County for 36 years. Part of his duties was to organize elections.

“In Montana, we have so many election security measures. We have tons of them. I mean, every step of the way, anything you can think of,” Custer said.

Custer is a Republican, but found herself at odds with her party members during the 2021 legislative session over legislation affecting voting and election processes in Montana.

“They [the bills] were solutions looking for a problem,” Custer told attorneys during the review.

Together, the laws in question end voter registration on Election Day, weaken the power of student ID cards at the polls, and prohibit compensation for collecting ballots.

Lawmakers defending the bills say they improve election security at times of doubt in the process.

Several groups have filed a lawsuit, claiming the new laws intentionally disenfranchise certain groups, including Native Americans and youth.

“The feeling in the caucus is that students tend to be liberal, so it’s their concern to vote,” Custer said, when lawyers asked her about discussions about voting and related legislation among her colleagues. of the legislature.

The trial is due to end on Friday.

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