Friday, August 7, 2020

Montana State Trial Court Removes Green Party from Ballot

Ballot Access News

On August 7, a Montana state trial court removed the Green Party from the ballot. Montana Democratic Party v State, DDV-2020-856. The law requires 5,000 signatures, but also requires an unequal distribution requirement from one-third of the state legislative districts. Some districts need as many as 150 signatures, but others require as few as 55 signatures. Over 13,000 people had signed the petition to put the Green Party on the 2020 ballot, and only 562 signers then withdrew their names. So the petition still would have had far more signatures than necessary, except that the withdrawn signatures were from certain legislative districts, so the petition failed the distribution requirement.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down unequal distribution requirements for statewide petitions in 1969 in Moore v Ogilvie, and since then lower courts have invalidated them in ten states.

The reason any signers withdrew their names is that the Democratic Party contacted them and asked them to remove their names. There is no state law in Montana that authorizes signers to remove their names from a petition for a new party. Furthermore, the state had already held a Green Party primary on June 2, 2020. But because the law does explicitly permit signers to remove their names from initiative petitions, the judge felt that the guiding principle is that signers can withdraw their names from any petition.

This is the second election in a row in which the Montana Green Party petition was first accepted, and a primary was held, and then afterwards the state courts removed the party from the ballot. The Republican Party had arranged for the paid petitioners for both party petitions. The Green Party did not really want to be a qualified party in 2020 (although it did in 2018), but it did want to petition for president. However, the presidential petition, which requires 5,000 signatures with no distribution requirement, is due August 12, and there is no time to do it.

The Montana Green Party has a federal case pending in the Ninth Circuit against the unequal distribution requirement, but it will not be resolved in time for the 2020 election. That case is Montana Green Party v Stapleton, 20-35340.

The Secretary of State, who is a Republican, will probably appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. However, in 2018, the Montana Supreme Court removed the Green Party, so it is not likely that the Secretary of State will win his appeal.

The August 7, 2020 decision says the Democratic Party has standing because the party “would be harmed electorally because voters who might otherwise vote for the Democratic Party candidates might vote instead for Green Party candidates.”

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