State appeals ruling that blocks Green Party ballot access
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state is appealing a judge’s order to remove Montana Green Party candidates from the November ballot because they did not gather enough signatures to qualify.
The notice was filed late Wednesday with the Montana Supreme Court along with a separate motion asking District Judge James Reynolds to temporarily suspend his July 9 order pending the appeal.
The motion argues if the secretary of state complies with Reynolds’ order and the Supreme Court overturns it after the Aug. 23 deadline for certification of the general election ballot, it could lead to a costly re-printing of ballots and re-programming of vote tabulating equipment or potentially cause irreparable harm to voters who support Green Party candidates.
“Conversely, it is much easier and would cause much less disruption to the election process simply not to count Green Party votes if the court’s decision is affirmed,” the motion states.
The Montana Democratic Party and three voters filed the lawsuit against the state through Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s office challenging more than 200 signatures turned in by the Montana Green Party for several reasons, including signatures on petitions that were submitted by someone other than the person who gathered the signatures.
Reynolds rejected about 85 signatures, including some that were invalided for being matched to the incorrect voter, for being printed rather than in cursive or for not meeting other petition requirements.
He declined to analyze signatures that the Democratic Party argued did not match voter registration cards, saying he was not an expert in signature verification.
The ruling left the Montana Green Party with the required number of signatures in 30 legislative districts, four short of the number of districts required.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree the Green Party could siphon votes away from Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is being challenged by state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
Stapleton has argued the issue was more politically driven than about ballot access.
“This has never been a legal case, it’s always been a political case,” Stapleton, a Republican, told Lee Newspapers of Montana.
Democrats have also complained that an out-of-state political consulting firm generally associated with the Republican Party was involved in signature gathering for the Montana Green Party without reporting its expenses. Thousands of signatures were turned in on the last day possible.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said Thursday he expects to have a decision on the complaint within the next few days.