Supreme Court Refuses to Disturb Montana Ruling Booting Green Party From Ballot

Supreme Court Refuses to Disturb Montana Ruling Booting Green Party From Ballot
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, early on June 15, 2020. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court summarily denied a request by Montana’s Republican secretary of state to put Green Party candidates back on state ballots for the Nov. 3 election, a move that could affect the hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate and down-ballot contests.

In post mortems of the 2016 presidential election, Green Candidate Jill Stein was believed to have cost Hillary Clinton wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan by drawing voters who would otherwise have gone Democrat.

A similar dynamic could have an impact on high-stakes races in Montana in 2020, including the senate contest between Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, against incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, and may even affect which party controls the U.S. Senate after the election.

President Donald Trump easily bested Democrat Hillary Clinton in Montana in the 2016 presidential election, securing its three electoral votes, out of the 270 needed nationwide to be elected president. Trump won 56.2 percent of the popular vote in Montana; Clinton, 35.7 percent, according to Ballotpedia.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Aug. 25 denied the emergency application in the case cited as Stapleton v. Montana Democratic Party. She didn’t explain why.

Virginia attorney Jim Renne, the counsel of record for Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, a Republican, didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Stapleton, who isn’t seeking reelection, brought the matter before the nation’s highest court after the Montana Supreme Court on Aug. 19 upheld a lower court ruling on Aug. 7 that struck Green Party candidates from the ballot following a scandal-marred signature-gathering process.

More than 500 individuals asked for their names to be deleted from ballot petitions after they learned the Montana GOP underwrote the $100,000 signature drive benefiting the Green Party and apparently violated campaign finance laws by not disclosing the expenditure. Stapleton resisted removing the names, and was sued by Democrats. The state courts forced his hand, leaving Green Party candidates without the signatures they needed to qualify to appear on the ballot.

As the state prepares to print general election ballots in mid-September, “the Montana courts have completely rewritten the minor party petition process, removing the Montana Green Party and its state and federal candidates from the ballot,” Stapleton argued in the application for stay presented to the high court.

“The Montana courts have, effectively, created chaos out of Montana’s otherwise orderly election process, without ever adequately considering the First Amendment rights of Green Party candidates, voters, and ballot access supporters.

“No Green Party candidate, supporter, or funder was permitted to intervene in the matter. Rather, at the behest of a rival political party, the Montana courts have effectively voided thousands of votes cast in favor of the Green Party during the state’s primary election and disenfranchised nearly 13,000 qualified electors who signed the petitions to place the Green Party on the ballot.

“Changing the rules for qualifying minor parties to hold their election primaries late in the election cycle at the request of a major party, or anyone else for that matter, is fundamentally unfair, especially when the Secretary of State followed established election laws and adopted rules.”

Green Party candidates could still qualify for the ballot, but they are running out of time.

Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sandi Luckey praised the Supreme Court for rejecting Stapleton’s “embarrassingly partisan behavior” and “uphold[ing] the integrity of Montana elections.”

“Today, the United States Supreme Court dealt the latest blow to the Montana GOP’s massive fraudulent effort to mislead Montana voters and tamper with our elections,” Luckey said, according to The Hill.

Attorney Marc Elias, who has been spearheading the Democratic National Committee’s national drive to change state election laws through strategic litigation, celebrated on Twitter after the high court decided not to intervene:

“The [Montana GOP] ran a scheme to get Green Party candidates on the ballot to siphon votes. It was exposed and after litigation, the candidates were removed from the ballot,” Elias wrote.