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Montana asks state court to overturn mail ballot ruling

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HELENA (AP) – Montana’s attorney general asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn a Yellowstone County judge’s ruling that would allow absentee ballots to be counted as long as they’re postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the following Monday.

District Judge Donald Harris of Billings granted a preliminary injunction Friday preventing the state from enforcing a law that requires absentee ballots to be received by county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Tim Fox asked the Montana Supreme Court to issue a stay without waiting for the District Court to rule since the primary election is on June 2. Fox previously filed a motion on behalf of Secretary of State Corey Stapleton asking Harris to stay his ruling.

State officials argue the Election Day deadline has been in place for decades, but the Montana Democratic Party and others didn’t seek the preliminary injunction until late April. The state also argues instructions that accompanied the ballots included the Election Day deadline.

The disparity and inconsistency in the length of time it takes to deliver a mailed ballot significantly burdens absentee voters because they vote a week before the election, have less time and information to decide how to vote and even if they vote a week early, there’s no guarantee their ballot will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service in time for it to be counted, Harris wrote Friday.

Harris also found the receipt deadline doesn’t treat in-person and absentee voters the same, because people who are in line to vote by 8 p.m. on Election Day are still allowed to vote. However, absentee ballots not returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted.

Harris also issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the voter-approved Ballot Interference Prevention Act, saying it, along with the receipt deadline, acts to suppress turnout among voters who are Native American, elderly, disabled, poor, parents working low-wage jobs, college students, first-time voters and those who have relied on ballot collection services.

The law restricts the ability to collect and turn in other voters’ absentee ballots.

The state is not asking the Montana Supreme Court to overturn Harris’ injunction preventing enforcement of the so-called ballot harvesting rule.

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