President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and three Republican groups have filed a lawsuit against Montana Gov. Steve Bullock over the decision by Bullock to expand mail-in voting ahead of the November election, and labeled the Democrat’s directive as a “brazen power grab.”
The suit was filed on Sept. 2 in U.S. District Court in Helena, and the complaint identifies the plaintiffs as Donald J. Trump for President Inc., the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Montana Republican State Central Committee.
The complaint argues that the directive, which gives counties the discretion to expand access to voting by mail and early voting, amounts to an attempt by Bullock to increase his chances of winning a U.S. Senate seat in a tight race.
“The Governor’s power grab under the cover of COVID-19 is particularly egregious,” the suit states, according to the Independent Record. “The Governor is running for U.S. Senate as a member of the Democratic Party and his race is one of the most competitive in the country. So he is using his current position to force a brand-new election system on Montanans that, according to his own party, will sway the election in his favor. This action cannot stand.”
Bullock dismissed the allegations as baseless.
“Montana has a strong history of voting by mail and it is and has always been safe and secure. This lawsuit is clearly a political stunt,” Bullock said in a statement.
“A bipartisan group of Montana election officials, the vast majority of which are Republican, requested this change because the health and safety of our election judges and voters are on the line.”
In an Aug. 6 statement announcing his directive, Bullock cited guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which noted that in-person voting on a single day carries a higher risk of transmitting the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus due to larger crowds and longer waiting times.
“Locally elected officials best understand the voting needs of their communities, and taking this action now ensures they will have the time to make the right decisions for their localities. With this approach we can protect that fundamental right to vote, while easing crowding and pressure on voting on Election Day,” he said in the statement.
The legal challenge comes amid repeated allegations by Trump and others that voting by mail carries a greater risk of election fraud. Opponents of this view frequently point to a lack of evidence about fraud on a large scale.
Attorney General William Barr, in an interview on CNN this week, claimed that a system in which mail-in ballots are distributed widely is “very open to fraud and coercion,” calling it “reckless and dangerous,” and “playing with fire.” Asked about the lack of evidence for “widespread” fraud, Barr argued that this may be because “we haven’t had the kind of ‘widespread’ use of mail-in ballots that is being proposed.”
“Absentee ballots are the tools of choice of election fraudsters because they are voted outside the supervision of election officials, making it easier to steal, forge, or alter them, as well as to intimidate voters,” Heritage senior legal fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky wrote in an op-ed.
While Heritage’s own database of all reported instances of election fraud, dating back to 1979, lists only 1,277 “proven instances of voter fraud,” the organization’s communications manager told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that “the database is only intended to represent a small sampling of the types of voter fraud that can occur—it is by no means a comprehensive report of all the voter fraud that happens around the country.”
In the broader debate about election security, which includes discussions around mail-in balloting, Republicans have tended to argue that casting a vote is a privilege of citizenship that should be safeguarded with secure processes and restrictions, and that lowering requirements opens the process up to fraud and abuse.
Democrats tend to hold the view that voting is a right and that barriers to casting a ballot should be as low as possible.
The Trump campaign also has taken legal action over expanded mail-in voting in Nevada and New Jersey.