HELENA (AP) — A judge ordered the Montana Green Party be removed from the ballot this fall because it did not submit enough valid signatures to qualify.
Helena District Court Judge James Reynolds directed Secretary of State Corey Stapleton to remove the party from the ballot after invalidating nearly 80 signatures gathered through a petition process, Lee Newspapers reported . A Green Party candidate could have siphoned votes from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in his race against Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
To qualify, the Green Party needed to gather 5,000 signatures from at least 34 of the state House districts. But Montana Democrats argued that the Green Party gathered enough signatures from only 30 districts, citing such issues as who signed off on the petition forms as well as signatures that did not match what was on file for the voter.
In Monday’s order, Reynolds said he found signatures invalid for several reasons, from being submitted by a person who didn’t collect them to mismatched signatures and entries lacking the required information.
That left the Green Party without enough signatures in eight House districts.
“Today’s ruling is a win for Montanans against the tactics of out-of-state, Republican dark money groups that are blatantly trying to interfere in Montana’s democracy,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of Montana Democrats.
Democrats argued that an out-of-state political consulting firm was involved in gathering signatures to certify the Green Party for the ballot, but that activity was not reported to the state Commissioner of Political Practices as required by state campaign finance laws.
Stapleton said Monday he had not had a chance to fully read the order, but he defended his office’s work as well as that of county election administrators.
“I stand by those clerks,” he said. “They’re good, they did a good job. Our office did a good job from top to bottom.”
Stapleton added that it was too early to say if his office would appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, Montana Green Party coordinator Danielle Breck said she was disappointed.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “Voter rights is one of the (Democratic Party’s) platforms, then they go about blatant suppression.”