HELENA — A proposed constitutional amendment that would change the way Montana conducts its elections has been approved for signature gathering – but it doesn’t have much time if it’s going to make it onto the ballot later this year.
The Montana Secretary of State’s Office says the sponsors of Constitutional Initiative 122 got permission last week to start collecting signatures. They would need to gather more than 60,000 signatures by next month in order to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
CI-122 would make a seemingly small change to the state constitution, but it would have a big impact. Currently, the constitution says the winner of an election is simply the person who gets the most votes, but CI-122 would change that to require them to get the majority of votes – more than 50%.
The amendment would task lawmakers with setting up a system for what happens if there’s no majority winner. One option would be to hold a runoff between the top finishers.
In a summary of CI-122 on the Secretary of State’s website, advocates said, “A system of electing candidates by majority is a better reflection of voter support than the plurality or largest vote system because a candidate must ultimately gain the support of the most voters in an election.”
They said the new requirement would apply only to state and congressional elections, not to county or city votes.
To qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot, supporters must get signatures from registered voters that total 10% of the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor, including 10% of the voters in 40 of the state’s 100 legislative districts. Those signatures have to be turned in to county election offices for verification by June 17.
Two other proposed ballot measures are currently approved for signature gathering: Constitutional Initiative 121 would cap residential property taxes, while Initiative 191 would add new protections for water quality on the Gallatin and Madison Rivers.
Ballot measure petitions were also a topic of discussion Wednesday in a state legislative committee. The State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee is considering possible ways to clarify and streamline the process of qualifying a proposed ballot issue for signature gathering.
It comes after a district judge ruled some of the steps laid out in state law apply only to proposed statutory initiatives, not constitutional initiatives. Lawmakers also said they had heard from members of the public unhappy with the tight timeline required to propose an initiative referendum, which asks voters to decide whether to endorse or overturn a recently passed state law.