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Montana Secretary of State's office has spent $1.4M defending election laws

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
/
Montana Public Radio

Montana’s Secretary of State’s office has spent more than $1 million defending election laws against legal action this year.

At a recent legislative meeting, the office says it has spent $1.4 million dollars on lawsuits — $1.3 million dollars more than it had budgeted to defend controversial election laws passed in the 2021 session. Originally only $100,000 was appropriated for the office’s legal defense.

The lawsuits are related to election legislation passed by Montana’s Republican-majority Legislature in the 2021 session. The laws passed, and subsequently challenged, include eliminating same-day voter registration in the state, adding new voter ID requirements that ban the use of stand-alone student IDs and prohibiting payment for third-party ballot collection. 

The Secretary of State's office is responsible for enforcing the laws after the session. Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen was openly supportive of the legislation and listed eliminating same-day voter registration as a priority for her office.

Kris Wilkinson with the state's legislative fiscal division told lawmakers in the General Government Budget Committee meeting last week that the appropriated $100,000 was spent by February.

“They have paid ongoing litigation expenses using their enterprise fund," Wilkinson said.

Revenue for the enterprise fund, which supports operations of the Secretary of State, is generated from fees charged to different groups including Montana business and corporations, state agencies, candidates who file for election, and people who apply to be notaries.

Wilkinson reported to the committee that approximately $5.7 million has been spent on operating expenses this year. That includes the $1.3 million spent on lawsuits.

Ellis Juhlin is YPR's Statehouse reporter based in Helena.