Judge: Ballot Access Barrier in Montana Special Election is Unconstitutional

Independent and minor party candidates in Montana were handed a bittersweet victory in their bids to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke.

On April 8, Federal Judge Brian Morris ruled against Montana Secretary of State Cory Stapleton, finding that the signature requirement placed on non-major party candidates “severely burdens the constitutional rights of ballot access for independent candidates and minor party candidates.”

Green Party nominee Thomas Breck, independent candidate Steve Kelly, and Green Party voter Danielle Breck sued the secretary of state last month, challenging the state’s unreasonably high signature requirement for ballot access in Montana’s upcoming special election.

From Judge Morris’ decision:

“The Court determines that Montana’s 5 percent signature requirement for a special election severely burdens the constitutional rights of ballot access for independent candidates and minor party candidates. The state’s interest in seeking to impose order on the election process must give way to a candidate’s right to ballot access in light of the truncated timeframe to gather signatures, the prohibitive costs of such a concentrated signature gathering process, and the other unique problems posed by special elections.”

Plaintiffs were granted an injunction which reduced the required signatures from over 14,000 to 400. However, according to the Independent Record, it appears unlikely that Breck and Kelly will appear on the May 25 special election ballot.

Breck, the Green Party’s nominee, submitted nearly 600 signatures Monday and has appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He told KGVO he plans to run as a write-in candidate in any event.

Read Judge Morris’ decision:

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