Montana Ballot Access Decision Suppresses Green Party Voters

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court held that unequal distribution requirements for statewide petitions violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Again in 1970, citing the 1969 Illinois case, the SCOTUS struck down New York’s distribution requirements. Distribution requirements give voters in some geographical areas more power than voters residing in other areas in blatant disregard for a bedrock democratic principle: “one person, one vote.”

On March 20, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris, an Obama lifetime appointee, upheld the Montana distribution law, in Montana Green Party v. Stapleton, 6:18cv-87. The Montana law applies only to ballot-access petitions for a new party, not independent candidate petitions. It requires signatures from 34 state House voting districts, but the number varies from district to district. In some districts as few as 55 signatures qualify, while in others 150 are needed. The number is determined by 5% of the winning candidate’s total in the last election, which creates an unequal requirement due to varying popularity of the winning candidate in each voting district. The greater the vote total, the signature requirement rises accordingly.

The Court has no higher duty than protecting the constitutional rights of individual voters. The Court’s deeply flawed decision has failed miserably to represent the interests of Montana’s individual electors – especially those 10,000-plus registered voters who in good faith signed the 2018 Green Party ballot-access petition.

Montana is the last state with unequal distribution requirements for a new minor party or independent candidate petitions. The 2018 Green Party petition did not fail for lack of the necessary (5,000 registered voters) signatures, but because it didn’t meet the distribution requirement.

Judge Morris cited two cases (Colorado and Missouri) in support of his Opinion, however, neither case involve unequal distribution requirements. Both states treat all voting districts the same. He failed to discuss the fifteen precedent cases from states that struck down unequal distribution requirements. See: Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Cortes, 877 F.3rd 480 (3rd cir. 2017, p. 491). Nor did he mention the 2002 9th Circuit case that struck down Idaho’s unequal distribution requirement for initiatives. Idaho is in the 9th Circuit which means that Judge Morris should have based his decision on the Idaho precedent. Moreover, in 2005, Montana’s own unequal distribution requirement for initiatives was struck down in Montana PIRG v. Johnson, 361 F.Supp.2d 1222.

The 2018 Green Party case exemplifies the rapid erosion of the fundamental principles of free and fair elections. Democrats have long accused Republicans of underhanded voter suppression tactics. This case shows that Democrats and once-impartial judges that favor Democrats engage in the same unethical behavior. Judge Brian Morris has issued numerous well-reasoned opinions in previous election law cases. His ruling in the Green Party case signals to other judges who favor the Democratic Party over the Republican Party that it’s okay to engage in unscrupulous partisan behavior, as long as it helps to keep the Green Party off the general election ballot.

When more judges and election administrators feel more comfortable putting party above the integrity of the electoral process and the constitutional rights of individual electors, we’re sliding down that slippery slope. If political corruption is the norm, elections rapidly lose meaning. Reasonable individual electors have no logical reason to participate in meaningless elections.

Democrats have worked hard to dis-enfranchise thousands of registered Montana voters simply because they supported the Montana Green Party’s ballot-access drive. Democrats pose a serious and growing threat to the citizen-petition process. How ironic, a major party named “Democratic” without a shred of democratic principle in evidence. The integrity of Montana’s election system is in jeopardy. If the federal court system allows this type of blatant discrimination to expand, Montana’s “free and fair” elections process is dead and buried. RIP.

Steve Kelly is a an artist and environmental activist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.