The Montana Democratic Party is claiming the Montana Green Party didn't have enough signatures to qualify for running candidates in this fall's election and wants the Green Party's candidates removed from the ballot.
In a complaint filed Monday in Helena District Court, the Montana Democratic Party argues the Montana Green Party submitted invalid signatures that were used to certify the party for the ballot.
The complaint was also filed by James Larson, former chairman of the party; Donald Judge, former executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO; and Jean Price, a former state legislator. The complaint is against the state of Montana, through Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and the Montana Green Party.
Last week Stapleton said Larson was challenging the Green Party's certification for the ballot. Larson had requested from the Secretary of State the petitions submitted by the Green Party, as well as copies of the signatures on file for voters who signed the petition.
After the far-left Green Party qualified for the ballot on March 12, the last day possible, two of their candidates filed for the U.S. Senate race, one for the U.S. House and several for legislative seats. Having the Green Party on the ballot could possibly pull more liberal voters away from Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is facing what's expected to be a tight race to retain his seat for a third term this fall.
To qualify for the ballot, the Montana Green Party needed to gather 5,000 signatures from at least 34 of the state House districts. Though Stapleton certified 7,386 signatures from four counties, the complaint argues the Green Party gathered enough signatures from only 30 of the state House Districts, not the 34 required.
The complaint claims at least 180 signatures aren't valid. Reasons listed include at least 35 petition entities that don't contain a valid signature, 171 not signed in a manner that matches the signature on file for the voter, seven with an incorrect or invalid date, five without a printed name, and at least six matched in error to a Montana voter.
Monday's legal filing comes after another complaint lodged by the Montana Democratic Party with the state Commissioner of Political Practices last week. That claim argues an out-of-state political consulting firm was involved in gathering signatures to certify the Green Party for the ballot but that activity was not reported to the commissioner as required by state campaign finance laws. That complaint claims at least two out-of-state residents with ties to the firm, Advanced Micro Targeting, helped gather signatures.
The Montana Green Party has not reported any paid signature-gathering efforts and said in a press release late Friday it has no knowledge of any paid efforts. The commissioner is in the process of investigating that complaint.
Monday's complaint in District Court also argues the signatures "appear to have been gathered by a for-profit, out-of-state company, relying heavily on individuals who listed out-of-state addresses on their signature gatherer affidavits."
It references Cody Pope, who listed himself in an online profile as state director of the Green Party qualification effort, and helped collect signatures. The complaint also mentions a Billy Rogers, who is listed as the president of Advanced Micro Targeting in records kept by the Nevada Secretary of State. Rogers dropped off petitions in Missoula County, according to elections officials there. A reporter in Nevada who has covered Rogers confirmed the phone number Rogers left with Missoula County elections officials belongs to the Rogers who works at Advanced Micro Targeting.
Fifteen people submitted packets of petitions to officials in four counties — Cascade, Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Yellowstone — for signature certification. According to the District Court complaint and the petitions, the vast majority of the signatures collected came in the three weeks prior to the March 5 deadline to submit signatures to county elections officials.
The complaint argues that signatures gathered during the final push were not submitted until March 4, "leaving both county officials and the Secretary (of State) with mere days to review and certify thousands of petition signatures."
The complaint argues that a "vast majority of the thousands of signatures" were obtained prior to March 5 and could have been turned in earlier. County elections officials, who had to certify the signatures submitted to them before sending the petitions on to the Secretary of State, told the press they were "scrambling to verify and submit the signatures," according to the complaint.
"A careful, more thorough review of the petition signatures submitted and initially counted in three Montana counties, conducted absent the time pressure imposed by the statutory deadlines, has established that the petition only contains the requisite number of valid signatures in no more than 30 House Districts," according to the complaint.
The complaint also argues that some of the signature gatherers' efforts seem unrealistic. Gatherers averaged 500 signatures a day, and one reported collecting in a single day more than 90 signatures from Cascade County and more than 50 from Yellowstone County, "despite the more than four-hour driving distance between the two counties," according to the complaint.
The complaint also says at least one Green Party candidate, Tim Adams, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat, has "long-standing affiliations" with the Montana Republican Party. Adams has been on the Montana GOP's payroll in the past.
Candidates like Adams are "seeking the Green Party's nomination to act as 'spoiler' candidates rather than to advance the Green Party's stated principles and values," the complaint claims.
Neither Pope nor Rogers have returned previous calls for comment. The Democrats did not announce the filing until after 6 p.m. Monday, and the Montana Green Party and the Secretary of State's office could not be reached for comment.