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No Holds Barred: Montana Election Gets Wild

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 25 May, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
2 min read


It is not often a congressional election features a reporter allegedly getting body slammed by one candidate and another who’s been a regular at a nudist colony. These, however, are the choices voters have after the secretary of state put up major roadblocks for independent and Green Party candidates.

Yep, Big Sky country is the backdrop for a unique and drama-filled race. Voters will go to the polls Thursday to fill Republican Ryan Zinke's empty congressional seat. Zinke left the US House to head the Department of the Interior.

The Major Party Candidates

The Democratic nominee is 69-year-old Rob Quist, a bluegrass musician -- who frequently performs at a nudist resort -- and political newcomer. Millions of dollars have poured into the race to support Quist. He also has the support of party activists, and received the endorsement of independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.


However, the national party largely withheld its support while the GOP and its allies strafed Quist with a barrage of negative ads that badly damaged his homespun image.

Republican nominee Greg Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday night for allegedly body-slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper. It is not likely to be a game-changer for Quist, however, because of the absentee vote.

More than 259,500 ballots were returned by Wednesday evening, according to Derek J. Oestreicher, the Director of Elections and Voter Services. That is about 73% of the total absentee ballots sent out.

Limited Choice

IVN started following the ballot access case brought against Montana Secretary of State Cory Stapleton in late March.

Federal Judge Brian Morris ruled against the secretary of state on April 8, finding that the signature requirements placed on non-major party candidates severely burdened "the constitutional rights of ballot access for independent candidates and minor party candidates.”

Green Party candidate Thomas Breck and independent candidates Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell were denied access to the special election ballot because they failed to collect at least 14,268 valid signatures between March 1 and March 6. You read that correct -- over 14,000 signatures in 5 days!

Morris did not order the secretary of state to add any additional candidates to the ballot, despite his ruling. Montana voters have three options -- Quist, Gianforte, and Libertarian Mark Wicks, for the state’s only congressional seat.