The special election process to replace Congressman Ryan Zinke as Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House is being challenged in court.
Three plaintiffs are suing Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, challenging the Big Sky state’s onerous ballot access rules and questionable election schedule. Green Party nominee Thomas Breck, independent candidate Steve Kelly, and Green Party voter Danielle Breck filed the suit earlier this month.
Their primary contention is the signature requirement for 'nonqualified' parties and independents. Presently, the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties are the only three qualified parties in the state, according to the secretary of state.
For everyone else, there are additional obstacles to overcome in order to obtain ballot access. Independent candidates and candidates of nonqualified parties must submit enough signatures to equal “5% or more of the total vote cast for the successful candidate for the same office at the last general election,” and do so 82 days before the election.
For Rep. Zinke’s seat, that amounts to more than 14,000 signatures, which would have to be gathered within a matter of days.
From the complaint:
“On [March 1, 2017], Montana Governor Steve Bullock ordered a special election to fill the vacancy. He set the election for May 25, 2017 – 85 days following the vacancy – which was the earliest date allowed by Montana law. Mont. Code Ann. § 10-25-203... Independent and minor-party candidates, on the other hand, can appear on the special-election ballot only if the candidate or party submits declaration and oath of candidacy form and a nominating petition containing a sufficient number of signatures no later than 82 days before the election. Mont. Code Ann. §§ 13-25-205(2), 13-10-503.”
According to the Daily Chronicle, Kelly and Breck have not yet received notice from Sec. Stapleton as to whether or not they will appear on the special election ballot.
A hearing for the case is scheduled for April 4, but it is unlikely that the plaintiff's grievances will be resolved before Montana voters head to the polls on May 25.