State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: Montana (page 1 of 2)

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

           Background

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.

permalink: http://electls.blogs.wm.edu/?p=4364

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

Montana Eyes Voting By Mail

Montanans are currently embroiled in a debate over whether to transition to a vote-by-mail system, a move that could make Montana the third state, after Oregon and Washington (which has a “county option”) to adopt the mail ballot system.  The State Association of Clerks and Recorders have come out in support of the proposal, calling the proposal their “top legislative priority” in the face of increased use by voters, higher costs, administrative difficulties, and the potential for higher turnout.  The group previously supported legislation calling for a “county option” in the 2009 Legislature, and proposed a similar draft bill to the State Administration and Veterans Affairs (SAVA) interim committee in June 2010. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in election law.

– The Hawaiian Office of Elections has set May 22nd as their target date for a special election to replace Congressman Neil Abercrombie.  Due to that state’s budget troubles, the election will be held entirely by mail. For an overview of Hawaii’s recent election problems, go here.

– Senators Chris Dodd and Tom Udall have proposed a constitutional amendment to overrule the Citizens United decision.  The amendment would allow the federal and state governments to place limits on the amount of contributions that can be made to a candidate and on the amount of expenditures that can be made by a candidate.

– A Georgia program for verifying voters’ citizenship has ruffled some feathers over at the Department of Justice.  Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the DOJ has the right to stop any state election administration laws from taking effect.  The DOJ has objected to the Georgian program, as it claims the state has not demonstrated that the program does not have a discriminatory purpose.

– The ALCU has appealed a federal court ruling that upheld Montana’s ballot access laws.  Independent candidates seeking to run for statewide office in Montana must meet some of the stringent requirements in the country, including an early filing deadline and steep filing fees.

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