The Montana Democratic Party is suing Montana’s Secretary of State and the Montana Green Party to block the Party from appearing on election ballots this year.
"This could shift electoral politics in the short term in Montana," said Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, speaking shortly after he certified the Green Party for the 2018 ballots on March 12. At the time Stapleton acknowledged the possibility of a lawsuit challenging the decision, but said it would be without merit.
On Monday, an attorney for the state Democratic Party filed a complaint in Lewis and Clark County District Court saying Stapleton incorrectly certified 180 signatures on petitions to get Greens onto the ballot. Democrats say those should be thrown out, which would mean Greens failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot this year.
Democrats, while praising local election officials, say the signatures were not thoroughly reviewed.
Stapleton, who has himself raised concerns about fraudulent and mismatched signatures appearing on ballots before, disagrees.
"We took the time to make a good decision. And if you gave us three more weeks, we would have come to the same conclusion," he said.
The Montana Green Party did not respond to MTPR’s interview request, but told the Associated Press that the lawsuit is, "frivolous."
The Democrats' complaint says that if the Green Party appears on the ballot, Democrats will, "have to divert their efforts and resources to educate and persuade voters to support Democratic candidates over candidates claiming to be affiliated with the Green party, as would be the case if any other unqualified political party were added to the ballot."
The March announcement that the Green Party would appear on Montana ballots for the first time in more than a decade was seen as creating potential vulnerability to the left-leaning voting base of the Democratic party.
The Montana Green Party describes itself as progressive and dedicated to social justice, decentralization of political power, diversity, and environmental and economic sustainability.
That kind of political platform could persuade some would-be Democratic voters in the upcoming U.S. House and Senate races to cast their support toward a Green Party candidate, if they’re presented the option.
The Montana Democratic Party issued a press release announcing their legal challenge but declined to be interviewed for this story.
Outside the lawsuit, Montana Democrats are also alleging that a Nevada-based company violated state campaign law when it did not report spending money to assist in gathering signatures in an attempt to qualify the Green Party.
The Secretary of State says some of the June 5 primary election ballots including Green Party candidates names have already been printed.