A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

10 April 2017

It’s Ballot Access Chaos Day in Montana

Twenty days ago, Thomas Breck, the Montana Green Party’s choice to run for Congress, and two independents, Steve Kelly, and Doug Campbell, also a declared write-in candidate, asked a Federal District Court to order their names be placed on the ballot for the 25 May special congressional election. Montana’s signature requirements, they said, were unreasonable and thus an unconstitutional barrier to ballot access.

I thought that argument was a stretch — but the court thought it made sense.

Late Saturday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris enjoined Montana from requiring that independent candidates and non-automatically ballot qualified political parties obtain more than 400 valid signatures to earn a place on the special election ballot:

The Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 3) and enjoins the State from enforcing Montana’s ballot access laws to the extent that it requires an independent or minor party candidate to obtain in excess of 400 valid signatures in order to appear on the ballot for the May 25, 2017, special election for the United States House of Representatives.

According to the Missoulian, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton takes the position that the new signature requirement is moot because it’s way too late to collect and submit signatures:

Communications Director for the Secretary of State Morgan Williams said the ruling did not change the deadline for those signatures to be submitted and so the secretary of state’s office did not expect any new names to be added to the ballot. Stapleton celebrated the ruling in a press statement.

Writing on the Green Party’s Facebook page last night, Danielle Breck announced another legal challenge to Stapleton:

Good evening my beautiful family! Please congratulate your (exhausted) Montana Green Party on collecting an outstanding 550 signature in a mere 7 hours today! We are eternally grateful to all of you who helped out!

While the SOS has, at this time, declined to concede ballot access we have filed an appeal with the 9th circuit court of appeals. We will keep you all updated as things progress. With all our love, Dani.

It’s possible the special election could be rescheduled for a later date to allow a week for independents and minor political parties to gather signatures. Montana law requires holding the election 85–100 days after the vacancy occurs. Gov. Bullock chose the earliest possible date, 25 May. The filling a federal vacancy statute is silent on whether the governor can change the date of the election. But assuming he can, a 12-day delay would put the election on Tuesday, 6 June.

A 12-day delay would put absentee ballots in the hands of college students during finals week. Democrats want to avoid that. Therefore, I predict Bullock will not change the date for the election without a court’s ordering him to do so.

There will be a lot of legal and political maneuvering today, and more than a little chaos. Keep your flask of Wild Turkey handy. You may need frequent swigs.