HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court, in a split ruling on September 21, upheld a temporary order blocking the enforcement of two election-related laws passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature while the laws are being challenged in court.
Five justices agreed with a lower-court judge who blocked a law that required people using a student identification to register and vote provide another document including their name and address.
Four justices agreed that District Court Judge Michael Moses was correct in temporarily blocking a law that ended Election Day voter registration while the court case plays out.
“Young people use Election Day voter registration at twice the rate of older Montanans,'' said Hunter Losing, executive director of one of the plaintiffs — the Montana Public Interest Research Group, or MontPIRG. The group registers people to vote and encourages civic involvement. “We will be working hard for a great turnout in November.''
Moses had issued his order in April temporarily blocking the two laws, along with two others, saying they appeared to unconstitutionally burden the right to vote.
Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen appealed, arguing elections had already been held under the new laws and the June 6 primary was just weeks away. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in May that the student ID law and another ending voter registration at noon on Monday before Election Day would remain in effect for the primary election.It's unclear how long the case will take to play out and how the order might affect November's general election.
Jacobsen's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The state Democratic Party, tribal organizations and youth groups challenged four laws passed by the 2021 Legislature that they argued were meant to make it more difficult for Native Americans, new voters, the elderly and those with disabilities to vote.
Moses has since declared unconstitutional a law that would not have allowed 17-year-olds who pre-register to vote to receive a ballot, through the mail or otherwise, until they turn 18, even if they would turn 18 on or before Election Day.
Jacobsen did not challenge the order temporarily blocking a law that sought to ban the paid collection of voted absentee ballots.
Jacobsen had requested the bills as Republicans around the country changed voting laws in the wake of the November 2020 election and claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that the election was stolen.
The justices said Jacobsen's arguments that the laws were meant to prevent voter fraud didn't hold up at first glance.
Justices said Jacobsen pointed out there had been isolated cases of voter fraud, although none of them involved the use of student IDs. An expert for the secretary testified that there was “some evidence the photographic identification laws bolster confidence in elections.''
That argument was undermined, the justices said, by the fact that the law allows the use of concealed carry permits — which do not include photos — as a primary form of voter ID.
The majority also noted appellees testified that voter fraud is rare in Montana, with only a handful of cases over the past 20 years.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota teachers and school administrators overwhelmingly voiced opposition to Gov. Kristi Noem's proposed standards for social studies in public schools, saying the proposal saddles them with expanding and unwieldy criteria to cover in classrooms but fails to teach students to think analytically about history.
Educators, who say they were left out of the process of developing the standards, voiced their opposition as the state's Board of Education Standards kicked off a series of public hearings Monday before deciding whether to adopt them.
Their objections present a determined challenge to the Republican governor's proposed standards, which could remake the state's standards for history and civics by relying heavily on material from Hillsdale College, a private, conservative institution in Michigan.
Conservatives and some parents who spoke at the Board of Education Standards hearing in Aberdeen on Monday defended the proposal as a robust effort to address a lack of knowledge of American civics and revive an appreciation for the nation's founding ideals. Noem, a potential 2024 White House contender, has billed the proposed standards as “free from political agendas'' and the “very best'' in the nation.
But two educators who were on the 15-member standards commission have spoken out against the standards they ostensibly helped create.
“The process was hijacked and reduced the commission to essentially proofreading or randomly interjecting content to a bulleted list of exhaustive curriculum topics while the governor's chief of staff, not the secretary of education, had to approve each change,'' Samantha Walder, an elementary school principal who was a part of the standards commission, told the Board of Education Standards.
“When our small group of educator opponents tried to make significant changes, we were dismissed by the chair.”
Roughly 87% of people who have submitted hundreds of written comments to the Department of Education voiced opposition. Teachers and historians, including the American Historical Association, have excoriated the proposal as failing to teach students to inquire into history and think critically about it.
Members of several American Indian tribes in the state have also said the state failed to consult with the tribes in developing the standards.
At Monday's hearing, conservatives supportive of the standards countered that the proposal increases the references to Native American history and leaders. They also argued for an idea popular in conservative circles: that education needs to be cleansed of pedagogical terms and owned by people besides professional educators.
“The complaint that students aren't required to do higher-ordered thinking because the standards don't use guild-approved buzzwords rings hollow,'' said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University who presented the commission's rebuttal on Monday.
He added: “This is the kind of education our children need if they are to be informed, educated citizens ready to take on the arduous task of self-government.''
At Monday's hearing, teachers and school administrators, with few exceptions, urged the board to reject the standards and suggested it consider ones developed by a commission of 44 South Dakota educators last year.
Last year's commission, which was facilitated by the American Institutes for Research, began its work with the state's established standards and built on them, notably to increase references to Native American history and culture.
Two conservatives resigned from last year's group in protest, and a conservative commentator, Stanley Kurtz, took to the pages of the National Review to criticize the facilitator and call for Noem to throw out the proposed standards. In October last year, she did just that.
The governor restarted the process with a smaller workgroup dominated by conservatives and hired a former politics professor at Hillsdale College, William Morrisey, to lead the group's work. It produced a 128-page proposal that contained distinct echoes of “The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum,'' which glorifies the nation's founders and criticizes the expansion of U.S. government programs.
Meanwhile, Hillsdale has also been involved in helping private and charter schools across the country implement classical education models that emphasize learning around traditional, Western writing and ideas. Rachel Oglesby, Noem's chief of policy, told the Board of Education Standards that she hoped the standards would bring the classical model to all the state's public schools.
The board will hold three more public hearings before deciding whether to adopt the standards next year.