Secretary of state plans to appeal Green Party ballot ruling
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Secretary of State Corey Stapleton plans to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court a state judge’s order to remove Montana Green Party candidates from the November ballot.
Stapleton said Wednesday he decided to appeal after reading the District Judge James Reynolds’ order that invalidated 87 signatures used to qualify the party for the ballot, making the signature-gathering effort fall short.
Monday’s order “violates Montana Supreme Court rules and statute, and ignores Montana’s long established practice of inclusion in democracy,” Stapleton said. “So on behalf of Montana, I’m going to ask the Montana Supreme Court to overrule the judgment of the district court.”
The Democratic Party filed the lawsuit against Stapleton’s office seeking to invalidate his certification of the Montana Green Party for the ballot.
The Democrats argued, and Reynolds agreed, that signatures should be invalidated if they were submitted by a person who didn’t collect them, if names were printed on the petition where they should have been signed, if the signatures were compared to handwriting available to the counties other than signatures on voter registration cards or if they were erroneously matched to different voters.
“Basically the judge has taken a technical stand that if you’re a mom with a baby on your hip outside a supermarket trying to sign a clipboard, and it’s not cursive like he thought it should be, then he literally threw that out,” Stapleton said.
Other signatures were rejected for not meeting petition requirements such as not including a printed name or a valid date. Reynolds did not reject printed names if they matched printed names on the signature line of voter registration cards, he noted.
Reynolds declined to analyze 156 signatures that the Democratic Party argued did not match voter registration cards, saying he was not an expert in signature verification.
State elections officials need a decision before Aug. 23 in order to start preparing the November ballots, Stapleton said.
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.
The office of the commissioner of political practices is still investigating that complaint, Commissioner Jeff Mangan said Thursday.
Both sides agree Green Party candidates could draw voters away from Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is being challenged by Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
Stapleton 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,” said Stapleton, a Republican.
Green Party coordinator Danielle Breck said Tuesday she hoped the secretary of state would appeal the judge’s decision because she wasn’t sure the Montana Green Party had standing to do so as an “interested party” to the lawsuit.