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This year, 778 Montanans signed Statements of Nomination and Oath of Office to serve as precinct persons on county party committees. The names of 100 who are contesting 50 precincts will appear on primary election ballots.

The 168-people increase over 2014 grassroots filings means that the number of precinct positions being filled will raise from 564 to 724. As usual, no one stepped forward to fill any of the 374 positions in 21 Montana counties regularly called nonpartisan by their election administrators.

In Butte-Silver Bow, 13 filed for 11 of that county's 62 nonpartisan precinct positions.

There were enough 2014 filings to give three Democratic and seven Republican county committees quorums, the 50 percent standard that prevents a minority from speaking for the majority. Now three Democratic and 10 Republican county committees have quorums.

This expanding grassroots activity has happened in spite of a 2015 Montana statute that narrows the political base of state parties by giving them authority to appoint county chairpersons and, through those, county committees. This appointing power departs from directly electing public officials, as was approved by popular initiative in 1911-'12 to protect the Montana Corrupt Practices Act. The Montana People's Power League offset the influence of moneyed speech in the smoke-filled backrooms of both state parties. Eight years later, Montana's Non-Partisan League defeated the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's efforts to repeal direct elections.

Today, a hundred years into normal change, vast increases in special-interest money flows and purposeful division by wedge issues, not one of Montana's three political parties deserves a "party of the people" award.

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We can do more to knit together the people of our state. Butte-Silver Bow County's nonpartisan county committee has a legislative delegation, capable of working with legislators representing the 21 self-described nonpartisan counties. Lawmakers can establish 50 nonpartisan district committees, each within a state senate district. District committees of precinct men and women could serve as funding-neutral forums for all parties' candidates.

Nonpartisan primaries offer additional general election ballot access.

John Driscoll is a retired Army National Guard colonel who lives in Helena. He is a former majority leader and speaker in the Montana Legislature, and served on the Montana Public Service Commission. 


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