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Category: Montana (page 1 of 2)

Ballot Collection Limitation Law Struck Down by Montana Courts

By Cody McCracken

As occurs every few years, this past November millions of people cast their votes for a wide range of offices. However, a major difference this year was that many of these voters cast their ballots in a way they may have never done so before—by mail. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced nearly all states to expand their absentee voting and early voting procedures. Yet, even before COVID, voters in Montana routinely voted well before election day.

While not a fully mail-in voting state, such as Washington and Oregon, Montana has robust mail and early voting accommodations that a majority of voters take advantage of. In Montana’s 2018 general election, 73 percent of the votes cast were by absentee ballot sent in before election day.

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Red Light for the Green Party in Montana

By Cody McCracken

This November, Montana voters will fill out their ballots for federal, state, and local elections. For nearly all these races, voters will only have two choices – the Democratic Party candidate or the Republican Party candidate. While this seems quite ordinary in our two-party dominated political system, which parties will be on the ballot has been the subject of contentious electioneering and court battles for months.

These disputes stemmed from whether a minor party, the Green Party, would grace Montana’s ballots for the 2020 election. In past elections the Green Party was included on ballots and it appeared they would once again as Green Party candidates initially qualified for most statewide races including the marquee races for the state’s U.S. Senate seat and Governor. However, the strange part of this story begins with the fact that the Montana Green Party was not trying to get on the ballot and fielded no candidates for elections this year. The “Green Party” candidates initially on the ballot had seemingly no connection to the party.

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Nonpartisan Election Laws Challenged in Montana

Before the 2016 election season even concluded, the 2018 campaign season for one small Montana community had already started heating up. Robin Benson, the Clerk and Recorder of Lincoln County, a small county of less than twenty thousand people, announced on October 18, 2016, in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Montana, that she plans on running for reelection in 2018. In the suit, Ms. Benson challenges Montana’s nonpartisan election laws as a violation of candidates’ free speech rights.

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First Ever Complaint Alleging Violations Under Montana’s Disclose Act Dismissed

Between August 18 and 20, Liz Fordahl and Scott Skokos received two postcards in the mail from the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity. The first postcard bears photos of incumbent Governor Steve Bullock and a broken piggy bank and declares that Governor Bullock is “bankrupting Montana.” The card goes on to urge the recipient to call the Governor’s office. The second postcard bears the photo of state Senator Robyn Driscoll and states that the senator has a failing grade on her “Montana freedom scorecard” and encourages the postcard recipient to call the senator and tell her to stand up to big government. Mr. Skokos filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) claiming the postcards were a violation of state election law.

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Robo-calls, in Montana and Elsewhere

By: Cameron Boster


Missoula, Montana, is a beautiful city. There are mountains in the distance, tall, deep-green trees everywhere, old buildings – and a rocky, white-swirling river moving through it. No reasonable person seeing Missoula for the first time would think to focus on the city’s current robo-call election law controversy.

This month, parents of students enrolled in Missoula’s schools received automated phone calls containing a message from Missoula’s mayor, John Engen. The content of the message is available on Youtube. In short, the message urges parents to vote on an upcoming bond, tells them where and how they can cast their ballot, and ends with this encouragement: “Thank you for everything you do to support your children, and to ensure a positive future for your family – and our wonderful community.”

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Distance as Discrimination: Native Voting Rights in Rural Montana Litigated in Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch

By: Cameron Boster

History of the Dispute

The seven Indian reservations that intersect with Montana’s massive counties face significant problems, including poverty, domestic violence, and obstacles to education. Native electoral representation, a tool essential for fixing these issues, is threatened by the thinly populated, hundred-mile distances between remote towns that stretch on bad roads through wild terrain.

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Supreme Court strikes down corporate spending ban

by Patrick Genova

Late last month the Supreme Court struck down Montana’s ban on corporate spending in elections. Montana was the first of many states to push back against the implications of Citizens United. In February the Montana Supreme Court upheld the ban saying that Montana had a rich history against corporate spending that rises to the level of a “compelling interest”, forcing the Supreme Court to take another look at its holding in Citizens United on appeal.

On the same day the Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act they also struck down Montana’s century old law banning corporate spending. The Court reiterated that corporate campaign donations are no different than contributions by any other citizen. Obama spokesman Eric Schultz said of the opinion, “Citizens United mistakenly overruled longstanding cases that protected the fairness and integrity of elections.” But Despite the mounting criticism the Court stands the same as in 2010 with the same five justices voting against the ban. James Bopp Jr., the attorney pushing for unlimited corporate spending, called the decision, “excellent”.

In deciding against Montana’s ban the Supreme Court has effectively shut down challenges that have sprung up since the Citizens United decision. But what will it mean for the future of Montana’s elections? For now it seems that corporate politics will begin to play a large role, whether its for good or bad. This does not mean that the fight against corporate spending is over. Governor Scweitzer said in response to the decision, “We’re going to overrule the Supreme Court with a constitutional amendment, to make it clear that we the people are in charge of America, not we the corporations. Here in Montana, we’re putting it on the ballot.” While the Court seems to be unwavering in their decision, the war against corporate spending is far from over.


Montana to vote on Supreme Court justice elections

by Elderidge Nichols

On April 18, 2011, the Montana state legislature passed SB 268 which calls for a referendum vote to determine the future of elections for the Montana Supreme Court.  On June 5, 2012, on the 2012 Primary Election Ballot, voters in Montana will determine whether Montana will begin to elect Supreme Court justices by districts.

Although the Montana state senate passed SB 268 the Attorney General’s office and Secretary of State are statutorily obligated to approve of the language of the Statement of Purpose designed to explain the purpose of the referendum.  Andrew Huff, Assistant Attorney General of the state of Montana, passed along a copy of the accepted language. The Statement of Purpose reads:

The Montana Supreme Court is composed of seven justices, one of whom is Chief Justice. Under current law, the justices are elected statewide and each Montanan votes for all seven positions. LR-119 would change existing law so that each justice is elected from one of seven districts of approximately equal population, with the Chief Justice then chosen from the seven by majority vote of the justices. Only Montanans living in each district would vote for their district’s justice. Justices must reside in their district when initially elected. Continue reading

Montana Supreme Court leading the charge against Citizens United

by Patrick Genova

Last month the Supreme Court issued a stay on Montana’s Supreme Court decision upholding corporate spending limits in state elections. It seems that the Court may be ready to reexamine Citizens United. What they’ll find is what many states have been saying all along: Citizens United is out of sync with the values of many states.

Montana was the first of many states to express disdain for unlimited corporate funding. Early last week 55 towns in Vermont passed resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment that would limit the rights of corporations. The Alabama legislature has also been seeking to stop PAC-to-PAC fund transfers that mask donors. Even some members of the Court seem eager to reexamine the effects of Citizens United. In response to the Montana decision, Justice Ginsburg referred to Justice Kennedy’s language in Citizens United decision saying, “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’” Meanwhile some panelists at the Federal Election Commission’s hearing last week urged the FEC not to wait for the Supreme Court to reverse Citizens United and to take regulatory action into their own hands. Continue reading

Montana rebels against Citizens United

Patrick Genova

in-depth article

It may be surprising that the biggest blow to corporations in 2011 didn’t come from Wall Street protestors. Late last month Montana’s Supreme Court took a swing at corporate spending in elections holding, in spite of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, that a 100-year-old law banning corporate spending was valid. In doing so, the court held that the lower court’s reading of Citizens United was erroneous. The Court in Citizens United said, “Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction ‘furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.’”

So what exactly should be considered a “compelling interest” for bans on political spending? The Supreme Court of Montana answers bluntly that they have met the standard of review set out in Citizens United. In assessing Chief Justice McGrath explains Montana’s long standing fight against corporate spending. Continue reading

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