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State utility regulators for now will be elected from 2023 map, district court judge rules

Public Service Commission District Map as drawn by the 2023 Legislature
Public Service Commission District Map as drawn by the 2023 Legislature

State utility regulators will be elected this fall from districts redrawn by the 2023 Legislature as a legal challenge over the map’s political fairness plays out in court.

Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Christopher Abbott announced his ruling Thursday.

Montana Public Service Commissioners are elected from five districts across the state. The 2023 Legislature re-drew those districts last spring to better align with the state’s changing population.

But the new boundaries were challenged by a group who said the map heavily favored Republicans, who currently control all five seats.

The group requested a ruling that would return districts to the previous map, drawn by federal court in 2003, while the case plays out.

Abbott rejected the request to temporarily block the new map for the 2024 election but wrote he expects the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims. He also wrote that it is the authority of the Legislature to draw the map and the court should only step in as a last resort.

Abbott says he will fast-track the case to come to a decision before the 2025 legislative session starts next January.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
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