President Donald Trump’s campaign agreed with a Montana judge that the state’s June primary didn’t lead to any fraud even though it was conducted almost entirely by mail, contradicting a theme being pressed by Republicans in litigation across the U.S. over expanded use of absentee ballots.
The campaign is seeking a court order blocking Governor Steve Bullock’s plan to automatically mail ballots to all registered voters for the Nov. 3 election, arguing that potentially outdated voter rolls will result in ballots being mailed to wrong addresses where they’ll be used fraudulently.
But U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen said at a hearing Tuesday that Montana’s history of fraud-free elections goes back at least 20 years, even though most voters in the state regularly use absentee ballots.
“Montana is to be commended,” Trump campaign lawyer Tyler R. Green said under questioning by the judge. Even so, the attorney said, “voter fraud is a real thing and states are entitled to take proactive measures to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Several courts have issued rulings in swing states recently noting that Republicans’ repeated claims of fraud tied to mail-in voting hadn’t been backed up. Trump has led the charge, repeatedly saying without evidence that mail-in voting will lead to a “rigged” election.
Christensen, a Barack Obama appointee, said he’d rule later on the campaign’s request.
During the hearing, Bullock’s lawyer Raph Graybill argued the campaign had failed to produce evidence of fraud, aside from pointing to generalized government findings that the use of absentee ballots created the potential for misuse.
“That’s like saying the court has found there are torts in the world, so I’m entitled to a ruling on my tort claim,” Graybill said. “That’s not how it works.”
But the campaign also argues that the Democratic governor’s plan is unconstitutional because only the state legislature can set election rules, and that Bullock illegally pushed through operational changes at the last minute.
Anita Milanovich, a lawyer for two Republican state lawmakers who intervened in the case, argued that automatic mail-in voting on Nov. 3 isn’t necessary because the virus isn’t spreading significantly in Montana.
“Infection rates are not as high as we saw elsewhere in the country,” she said.
The judge disagreed, saying the infection numbers in the state are going up.
“Those numbers are not going in a very good direction in Montana, wouldn’t you agree?” Christensen asked. “We had a straight line in July and August, but in September it seems to me we’re seeing a significant increase.”