HELENA, Mont. — President Donald Trump's reelection campaign and the Republican Party sued Montana on Wednesday after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock gave counties the choice to conduct the November election entirely by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit alleges Bullock's directive would dilute the integrity of Montana's election system.
The legal challenge is the latest attempt by Trump to block mail-in voting, which he has claimed without proof would lead to widespread fraud. His campaign and the Republican Party also sued last month over a new law in Nevada that will automatically send voters mail-in ballots for November, contending the plan would undermine the election’s integrity.
The lawsuit in Montana names Bullock and Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton as defendants.
“This template lawsuit appears to be part of a pattern of lawsuits across the country by Republican Party operatives to limit access to voting during the pandemic," Bullock said in a statement. “Voting by mail in Montana is safe, secure, and was requested by a bipartisan coalition of Montana election officials seeking to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and keep Montanans safe and healthy.”
Bullock isn't running for governor again but is trying to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. Stapleton did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel accused Bullock of using the coronavirus as “a power grab to take control of Montana’s elections in the name of ‘health.’”
“This rushed and unconstitutional directive creates a patchwork election code with no uniform procedures across the state, automatically mails ballots to voters, and invites fraud, manipulation and administrative chaos. Upending our elections process in the 11th hour is a recipe for disaster," McDaniel said in a statement.
Montana allows for voting by mail but only at the request of the voter. Under Bullock’s directive, which he issued after a request from county clerks statewide, counties have the option to have voting done entirely by mail for the November election.
Counties have until Friday to notify Stapleton on how they will conduct the election. According to the secretary of state's elections office, 42 out of 56 counties have already confirmed they plan to hold the November elections entirely by mail.
Montana's June 2 primary election was held by mail following a similar directive from Bullock, which received support from the Republican leadership of the state Senate and House.
Trump has contended vote-by-mail systems lack safeguards against fraud. But five states use universal mail voting with no major incidents of fraud.
“Even though Governor Bullock has watched President Trump’s team take down the unilateral power grabs of one liberal governor after another, he has now taken his ill-fated aim at last-minute election rule changes," Matthew Morgan, Trump's campaign attorney, said in a statement.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report.
This story has been corrected to show that Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s name was misspelled Cory.
Iris Samuels, The Associated Press