A state district judge has ordered the Montana Green Party off November ballots.
Helena Judge James Reynolds ruled Monday night that around 80 signatures gathered in the petition to put the Green Party on the ballot shouldn’t have been counted.
Removing the signatures from party’s count means the Green Party falls short of the number of signatures needed in 34 of the state’s 100 House districts in order to qualify for the ballot.
The ruling follows the Montana Democratic Party suit in April against the Secretary of State to block Greens from running candidates in November. Democrats argued that some of the signatures used to get the Green Party on the ballot weren’t valid.
"Obviously they don’t want competition," says Steve Kelly from Bozeman. "Up until yesterday I was the Green Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate Race."
"It’s an attack on democracy itself," says Kelly. "It’s trying to limit the choices that people have. It limits who they can associate with."
The ruling striking the Green Party from the ballot says some of the signatures on their petition did not match or were not from a registered Montana voter. Other signatures shouldn’t have counted, the ruling states, because they lacked information needed under petition guidelines or were gathered under a false petition affidavit.
Nancy Keenan, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, says challenging the Green Party’s qualification for the ballot was all about protecting the integrity of the state’s elections.
Montana Democrats have also filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices arguing that an out-of-state political group with Republican ties was involved in collecting signatures to certify the Green Party for the ballot without the legally required campaign finance disclosure.
Keenan states that, "out-of-state dark money interests were the ones that came into the state to basically hijack the election."
Keenan says if the Greens did appear on the ballot it would have cost the Montana Democratic Party time and effort to convince voters, including some in their own base, to vote for Democrats instead of Greens.
Jeremy Johnson, a political science professor at Carroll College, says the ruling against the Green Party could help Democrats in the upcoming midterms.
"This is a victory for Senator Tester and Kathleen Williams, who’s a Democratic challenger for the House. No doubt about that," says Johnson.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester has run close races both times he’s won election, never gaining more than 50 percent of the vote. And Williams run for the House against Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte could also be competitive.
Although Greens were very unlikely to win a statewide election, Johnson says if voters were given the choice to vote for the Green Party, it could pull votes away from Democrats, much like how Libertarians on the ballot can sap votes that could have otherwise gone to Republicans.
"What the effects would have been on the November ballot are hard to say. It’s possible that the Green Party in both races might not have even gotten one percent of the vote, or maybe one or two percent of the vote," says Johnson. "How many of those votes will go Democratic, well probably the bulk of those will go Democratic. Although there is no way to be sure or measure because people vote for idiosyncratic reasons."
Johnson says political parties’ goal is to win elections and create power. And when voters have more options the consolidation of that power is threatened.
"Major parties don’t have that much incentive to have third parties populating the ballot," says Johnson.
Montana’s Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is still considering whether to appeal Monday’s ruling that ordered him to keep the Green Party off the ballot later this year.
The Montana Green Party did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s request for comment on this story.
The Commissioner of Political Practices Office says it will soon rule on the Democratic Party’s complaint allegeding unreported out-of-state money helped gather signatures in support of Greens.