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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Election overhaul initiatives secure a spot on the November ballot

Organizers with Montanans for Election Reform stack boxes full of signatures in support of two constitutional initiatives to take to local county elections offices for verification on June 12, 2024.
Shaylee Ragar
/
Montana Public Radio
Organizers with Montanans for Election Reform stack boxes full of signatures in support of two constitutional initiatives to take to local county elections offices for verification on June 12, 2024.

The backers of two constitutional initiatives to change Montana’s elections say they’ve collected enough signatures to get them on the November ballot.

John McEwen spent a recent Sunday afternoon outside a Helena brewery, clipboard in hand, asking passersby to support two constitutional initiatives. One would create an open primary where the top four candidates advance regardless of party. Another measure would require candidates for top offices to earn more than 50% of the vote to win.

McEwen says the proposals can be complicated to explain to some.

“Occasionally, it’ll take a five or 10 minute explanation. Then you remind them it’s only to get it on the ballot, you don’t have to vote for it,” said McEwan.

The group behind the initiatives, Montanans for Election Reform, say they’ve collected more than 200,000 signatures total for the initiatives from all 56 counties — more than enough to secure two spots on the ballot.

However, nothing’s final until the local county officials verify the signatures.

A group of moderate Republicans is driving the initiatives’ campaign, saying the new election systems will give voters more choice and force candidates to be accountable to a broader electorate.

There’s bipartisan support for that. Former Democratic lawmaker Mary Sheehy Moe urged voters at a Wednesday press conference to get behind the initiatives, “So that we can once again elect leaders to truly represent Montana values and respond to Montana issues.”

The Montana GOP launched a Ranked Choice Voting task force to oppose a top four primary system. In a statement, GOP chair Don Kaltschmidt equated a top four primary to ranked choice voting, and said it’ll erode public trust in elections.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.  
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