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Montana secretary of state appealing Greens’ ballot removal

August 20, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2108, file photom Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is flanked by his elections director Dana Corson, right, and chief of staff Christi Jacobsen as they wait to testify before a legislative committee in Helena, Mont. Stapleton, a Republican, said Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, he is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that took the Montana Green Party off the November ballot after Republicans bankrolled the effort to get them on it. (AP Photo/Matt Volz,File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2108, file photom Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is flanked by his elections director Dana Corson, right, and chief of staff Christi Jacobsen as they wait to testify before a legislative committee in Helena, Mont. Stapleton, a Republican, said Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, he is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that took the Montana Green Party off the November ballot after Republicans bankrolled the effort to get them on it. (AP Photo/Matt Volz,File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Republican secretary of state said Thursday he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision that took the Montana Green Party off the ballot in the November election.

The party’s removal followed revelations that the Montana Republican Party had bankrolled the $100,000 signature-gathering effort that put the Greens on the ballot and violated finance laws by not reporting the spending.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton said in a statement that the Green Party’s removal was aimed at eliminating political competition for Democrats and that he was appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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His office did not provide a copy of the appeal and did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking the document.

The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday in a 5-2 ruling upheld an Aug. 7 ruling from district Judge James Reynolds that granted the requests of more than 560 people to remove their names from ballot petitions after they learned the Montana Green Party did not support the effort.

The state high court issued an expedited ruling because general election ballots must be certified by Thursday, and justices did not immediately explain their reasoning but said a full opinion would follow “in due course.”

Stapleton’s office did not respond to questions about the timing of the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and how it could impact the certification deadline.

Democrats said Stapleton’s office had been caught by the courts violating Montana election rules in a rush to get the Greens on the ballot as part of a Republican effort to tamper with the election.

“If Secretary Stapleton wants to expose his embarrassingly partisan, illegal behavior to judgment from the highest court in the land, he has every right to do so,” said Montana Democratic Party leader Sandi Luckey.

Stapleton is not seeking re-election after making an unsuccessful bid in the June primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat that’s being vacated by Republican Greg Gianforte, who is running for governor.

The Democratic Party and four people who signed Green Party petitions had sued after Stapleton refused requests to remove signatures from the petitions.

Stapleton said the removal requests were not filed or notarized before March 6, when he certified that Green Party candidates could file for office. Reynolds said there is nothing in state law that created that deadline or a requirement for notarized signatures.

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Green Party candidates are believed to draw votes away from Democratic candidates, and Montana has tight races for both a U.S. Senate and U.S. House seat.

Reynolds’ ruling left the Green Party without enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Reynolds’ decision marks the second time in two years that he removed Green Party candidates from the ballot,

In 2018, in another complaint filed by the Montana Democratic Party, he invalidated signatures that didn’t match those on file with counties and invalidated others that were submitted by people who did not collect the signatures.

It was never determined who was behind the 2018 effort to get Green Party candidates on the Montana ballot. But the Green Party of Montana said it was not behind the efforts in 2018 or 2020.

The 2019 Legislature passed a law requiring timely reporting of spending on minor party ballot-qualification efforts.