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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Green Party Ballot Case Will Stay In State Court

Voters in Clinton, Montana, cast ballots during the 2016 elections.
Rebekah Welch
UM School of Journalism
Voters in Clinton, MT cast ballots during the 2016 elections.

A lawsuit that challenges Green Party candidates’ appearance on election ballots later this year will stay in state court after a federal judge refused to pick up the case.

In the lawsuit, Democrats say not all the signatures gathered in the petition to put Green Party candidates on the ballot should have been counted. They were set to continue calling witnesses in state district court Monday morning.

But testimony was delayed when attorneys for the Green Party asked a federal judge to pick up the case in the hope of challenging how political parties gain access to election ballots in Montana. 

Danielle Breck is the state coordinator for the Green Party. She says current state law on this issue is unconstitutional and limits free speech. 

"We are incredibly disappointed with the federal judge’s decision. We feel that we had a good constitutional basis for our request that it be heard in federal court.”

Breck says the bar is set too high for political parties that want access to the ballot to run candidates for elected office.

In Montana, a party must gather at least 5,000 signatures coming from at least 34 of the state's 100 legislative house districts, in order to appear on ballots.

Within hours of the Green Party’s request Monday, U.S. District Judge Susan Watters denied it.

The federal judge wrote in her decision that the lawsuit brought by Democrats deals with state law and not federal statute or the federal constitution.

The case will again move forward in state court, but as of Monday afternoon, a new hearing date was not announced. When it does resume, the state judge currently overseeing the case, Kathy Seeley, says a new judge will likely take over hearing the case.

Late last week the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee filed to intervene to be a party in the case.

Republicans say if the Green Party is removed from the ballot, it could make it more difficult for Republicans to get elected.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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