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Montana Green Party facing apparent challenge to its 2018 ballot status

Posted at 3:22 PM, Mar 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-26 17:22:00-04

HELENA – An effort is under way to strike the Montana Green Party from the 2018 ballot, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton said Monday – but he believes the effort will fail.

Stapleton said two men with former connections to organized labor and the Montana Democratic Party have asked for copies of voter signatures from petitions used to qualify the Green Party, in an apparent attempt to disqualify some of the signatures.

“I’m very confident that the vast majority of those signatures are absolutely legitimate,” Stapleton told MTN News in an interview. “Not only did (the Green Party) get the proper number of counties, the minimums, but those signatures did match what’s on record.”

Dani Green, state coordinator for the Green Party, also told MTN News Monday that she "has faith that election officials" properly verified the signatures.

"I guess I’m flattered that the Democratic Party thinks we’re such a threat, while at the same time I’m saddened that they would try to get us off the ballot," she added. "They should want more participation by voters, not less."

Stapleton’s office qualified the Green Party for the 2018 Montana ballot on March 12 – the last day that candidates could file to run for office. Six Green Party candidates filed later that day, including two for the U.S. Senate and one for U.S. House.

Stapleton, the state’s chief election officer, said the Green Party submitted petitions with 7,386 valid signatures – well past the minimum 5,000 needed – and surpassed another required minimum in 38 state House districts.

State law says in addition to the 5,000-signature minimum statewide, parties seeking to qualify for the ballot also must surpass another minimum benchmark in at least 34 of the state’s 100 House districts.

That minimum is at least 150 signatures or 5 percent of the winning gubernatorial candidate’s total in that district from the previous election – whichever amount is smaller.

County election officials spent the week of March 5 verifying the signatures and sending them to Stapleton’s office, which totaled them up and certified the Green Party as qualifying for the ballot.

“We didn’t interpret it, we didn’t try to do anything other than just follow state law, which says they are eligible,” he said Monday. “It is as a result of the action of (the Green Party) collecting the appropriate number of signatures.”

Yet on March 15, Stapleton said he received a request from Jim Larson of Billings to produce copies of the petitions submitted by the Green Party, the names of voters who signed the petition and images of the voters’ signature.

Larson also made requests to the four counties where the signatures were gathered, for documents showing images of the signature.

Stapleton said Don Judge of Helena also has been assisting with the requests. Judge is a former executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO and Larson is a former chair of the Montana Democratic Party.

Stapleton said he’s been told by county election officials that those requesting images of the signatures are comparing them with signatures on the petitions, in an apparent attempt to find enough signatures that could be challenged to erase the minimums reached in several House districts.

In six districts, the Green Party’s signatures surpassed the minimum by six or fewer registered voters.

Neither Larson nor Judge returned messages Monday.

Stapleton said that several weeks ago, Montana election administrators underwent training on verifying signatures on petitions, so he’s confident they properly validated the correct number of signatures.

“I’m highly confident that the Green Party did qualify,” he said.

Primary election ballots must be printed within the next couple of weeks. The primary election is June 5, and absentee ballots and ballots for military personnel overseas are mailed out in late April and early May.