A federal judge decided she won't hear a case by Montana Democrats that seeks to remove the Green Party from the 2018 election ballot.
Green Party attorney Quentin Rhoades filed a motion Friday asking that a federal judge preside over the case that challenges the legality and validity of signatures gathered to qualify the party. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton agreed with the motion to remove the case from state court, according to the filing.
The Montana Democratic Party filed an emergency motion Monday morning asking U.S. District Judge Susan Watters to return the case to District Court in Lewis and Clark County.
Watters ordered the case remanded to state court hours later.
"We can only respectfully disagree with the Court's ruling," Rhoades said in a statement. "Montana Green Party voters remain hopeful the state court will allow them to participate in this year's election."
District Judge Kathy Seeley, who heard arguments last week, will now invite another judge to preside over the case, said Mike Meloy, attorney for the Democrats.
Seeley heard arguments last week from the Democrats, who challenged a batch of signatures on the grounds that they were not gathered by the person who turned in the petitions and swore that he had gathered them.
The Democrats also challenged other signatures, saying they didn't substantially match the signature on the person's voter registration card, as required by law.
The hearing was to continue Monday, but was canceled when the Green Party sought to move the case to federal court.
Green Party officials said earlier they had witnesses whose signatures were questioned who would testify they want the Green Party on the ballot. Emily Jones, attorney for the secretary of state's office, said she was going to question whether Democrats have a right to sue over the signatures.
The Montana Democratic Party argued it has standing to sue because if Green Party candidates are on the ballot the party would have to spend more to convince voters to vote for Democrats over Green Party candidates.
The Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee's motion to intervene last week was granted. The Republicans argued it would have to spend more if the Green Party candidates were eliminated because they would not be there to siphon votes away from the Democrats.
Green Party officials complained the two major parties were using the Green Party as a pawn.
"The fundamental right to vote for who you want to trumps the rights of the party it might theoretically hurt," Rhoades said Monday.
Stapleton, a Republican, sent out an email Saturday night complaining that the "Democrats want to selectively override the expertise of our county election administrators by removing a couple hundred petition signatures."
"When the Democrats are attacking the verification capabilities of our elections administrators in Cascade, Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark counties, they aren't just attacking three random clerks. They're attacking three of our best," Stapleton wrote.
Stapleton previously argued after the 2016 election that county election clerks were not adequately identifying voter fraud.