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Indian Supporters File Amicus Briefs in Montana Voting Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Indian tribes in Montana say that the time and cost associated with voting infringes on their right to vote. Last year, 15 Indians from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations filed a lawsuit claiming that the long distances they must drive for early voting and late registration leaves them disadvantaged compared to white voters, The Associated Press reports.

At that time, however, District Judge Richard Cebull refused to grant an emergency order to force officials to provide satellite voting on Montana reservations. Judge Cebull reasoned that, regardless of whether voting discrimination exists, the plaintiffs did not show they were unable to vote for the candidates of their choice.

In February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal.

Edward Moore, Jr., a plaintiff and Fort Belknap tribal council member, said that he has to travel more than 120 miles roundtrip to vote early in person. In person voting requires that he spend money on gas and take time off from work, luxuries that many in the Indian tribes cannot afford.

While not a direct prohibition against Indian voting, the Justice Department agrees that the distance between the reservations and the polling places denies Indians equal access to the polls.

Last week, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief in the matter, explaining that Judge Cebull overlooked the discrimination suffered by Indians who lack the resources to travel long distances to vote before Election Day.

Montanans are allowed to vote by email with early absentee ballots, or deliver ballots in person to county offices, the AP reports. Late voter registration begins at county offices a month before election day. The distance "effectively ... gives folks living near the county seat almost 30 days more to vote," according to a brief from the National Congress of American Indians.

The Ninth Circuit is expected to rule in the case before the 2014 elections.

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