HELENA, Mont. — Montana’s Democratic Party is arguing the state’s Green Party failed to collect enough valid signatures for certification for this year’s state ballot.
Democrats filed a complaint late Monday in District Court in Helena questioning the validity of 180 signatures in nine House districts in Cascade, Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark counties.
The Democratic Party earlier filed a complaint with the commissioner of political practices arguing a Las Vegas-based political firm, Advanced Micro Targeting, gathered signatures for the Green Party without reporting who hired them. The lawsuit argues AMT turned in thousands of signatures just before the deadline, requiring a hurried review that failed to detect invalid signatures.
Monday’s lawsuit was filed by the Democratic Party; former party chairman James Larson; Donald Judge, the former executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO; and Jean Price, a former state legislator. It names the state and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton as defendants.
Stapleton said he’s spoken with the clerks whose verification is being challenged and is “100 percent confident in the work being done,” noting election administrators from all 56 counties underwent signature verification training in February.
“We don’t have time to dink around with challenges that are unfounded and politically motivated,” said Stapleton, a Republican. “We’ve got an election to run.”
A show-cause hearing is set on April 24 before District Judge Kathy Seeley.
The Green Party needed signatures from at least 5,000 registered voters from at least 34 of the state’s 100 House districts to qualify its candidates for the June primary ballot.
On March 12, the deadline to file for office, Stapleton certified there were enough signatures in 38 House districts. The Green Party called for candidates and six people filed to run, including two challengers to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
A more careful review found the petition had adequate signatures in, at most, 30 House districts, the complaint argues.
At least 35 petition entries do not contain a valid signature and at least 171 are not signed in substantially the same manner as the signature the voter has on file, the complaint states. Other errors include an invalid or changed date, signatures without a printed name or signatures that were erroneously matched to or were not from a registered voter. Some signatures were invalid on multiple grounds, the complaint argues.
“We are confident that our state and local election officials did their due diligence while counting the signatures and therefore believe that this frivolous lawsuit will be unsuccessful and will only serve to unnecessarily waste the state’s resources,” Green Party spokeswoman Danielle Breck said in an email Tuesday.
The complaint seeks an injunction preventing Green Party candidates from appearing on the ballot, saying otherwise the Democratic Party and the plaintiffs will have to divert their efforts and spend additional resources to persuade voters to support Democratic candidates over those claiming to be affiliated with the Green Party.
The left-leaning Green Party could siphon votes away from Democratic candidates.
Glacier County already printed its ballot and the Lewis and Clark County ballot was going to print on Tuesday, Stapleton said.