Montana has a long and troubled history of denying Native Americans the right to vote, trying to limit their ability to vote and diminishing their votes’ impact.
For many years these efforts were deliberate, premeditated and obvious. Today’s problems are more subtle, but they still have the effect of diluting the Native American vote and violate the law.
Take the disadvantages Native Americans in three rural Montana face when it comes to late registration and in-person voting.
Theoretically every Montanan has the right and ability to register to vote and to cast a ballot up to and through Election Day. They simply have to go to their county courthouse to do so. And that’s where it gets sticky.
These county courthouses are in white population centers, not on Indian reservations. For some Native American voters, traveling to these locations is simply too expensive and takes too much time. Though not a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise Indian voters, this system had the practical effect of doing just that.
That’s why tribal members from the Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations sued to make Blaine, Big Horn and Rosebud counties establish satellite registration and voting sites on their reservations. The ACLU of Montana supported these tribal members’ efforts.
In June 2014, the state and county election officials settled the case with the tribal plaintiffs, and agreed to establish satellite offices on the reservations twice a week through Election Day.