POLSON – The Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices will not investigate any of three complaints filed against Lake County Justice of the Peace-elect Joey Jayne, alleging she illegally campaigned at a polling place.
Commissioner Jim Murry told the parties who filed the complaints that the statute outlawing electioneering at the polls is specific about prohibiting it “on election day.”
The complaints alleged Jayne campaigned at the Lake County Courthouse the day before the Nov. 6 election, among citizens who were lined up to vote a day early at the county’s Elections Office.
Jayne won a 12-way race for justice of the peace by 149 votes over her nearest competitor.
In letters sent last week, Murry told the complainants, “You do not allege Joey Jayne engaged in activities on election day as required by the statute. Therefore, I am unable to accept your complaint for investigation.”
Rick Schoening, the Polson police officer and former game warden who finished second to Jayne, called on the 2013 state Legislature to address the situation.
“We are hopeful one of our legislators will amend the law to say ‘whenever voting is taking place’ instead of ‘Election Day,’ ” Schoening said.
The current statute prohibits a person from doing “any electioneering on election day within any polling place or any building in which an election is being held, or within 100 feet of any entrance to the building in which the polling place is located, which aids or promotes the success or defeat of any candidate or ballot issue to be voted upon at the election.”
One of the complaints was filed by Lake County elections administrator Kathie Newgard.
Jayne, an attorney and former state legislator, has denied she broke any campaign or election laws, and said the allegations struck her as an attempt “to discredit the new justice of the peace.”
“I’ve been campaigning for 12 years and I know the rules,” she has said.
Jayne was one of a dozen people to file for the office after former Justice of the Peace Chuck Wall abruptly resigned midway through his third term in August. Wall’s resignation came more than two months after a primary election that normally would have winnowed such a crowded field to two candidates for the general election.
Jayne got 2,142 votes, or 18 percent, out of nearly 11,600 cast in the winner-take-all contest.
Schoening was second with 1,993, or 17 percent. Three more candidates – former sheriff’s Detective Steven Kendley, former Justice of the Peace Sharon Richardson and St. Ignatius attorney Kathleen O’Rourke Mullins – all finished with more than 1,100 votes as well.
Unless someone challenges the election in court, Murry’s decision would appear to end the legal questions surrounding the allegations. Earlier, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal prosecutor Laurence Ginnings had said there was no offense in the tribal code that remotely fit the electioneering statute in Montana law, and so there was no charge he could consider pursuing against Jayne.
CSKT has jurisdiction over all misdemeanors, which electioneering is, that are allegedly committed on the Flathead Indian Reservation by enrolled members of federally recognized tribes, which Jayne is.
County employee Janet Munn joined Newgard in filing one of the complaints dismissed by Murry because of the statute’s wording.
Murry sent a letter explaining his decision to them, as well as identical letters to Dean Flynn of Polson and Felicia Knight of Dayton, who filed similar complaints with the political practices office.