Montana's Democratic Party is asking a state judge to stand by his decision to disqualify Montana Green Party candidates from the general election ballot while the ruling is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton asked District Judge James Reynolds on July 18 to suspend his order denying ballot access. He argued that if justices made their decision after the Aug. 23 deadline to certify general election ballots, it could lead to a costly re-printing of ballots and re-programming of vote-tabulating equipment.
The Democrats responded Wednesday saying the state has not shown that its appeal is likely to succeed, and that the Supreme Court set filing deadlines that would allow it to make a ruling before the ballots need to be finalized.
Reynolds on July 9 rejected about 85 signatures, including some on a petition that was submitted by someone other than the person who gathered them, leaving the Green Party without enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Delaying the disqualification "would reward fraudulent petition gathering practices and violations of Montana's campaign finance disclosure laws," attorney Mike Meloy wrote on behalf of the Montana Democratic Party.
The commissioner of political practices has ruled the Montana Green Party failed to report as in-kind contributions the amount of money paid to 13 people who gathered signatures on behalf of the party. The Green Party must file a campaign finance report no later than Aug. 24 that includes the spending by Advanced Micro Targeting or the entity that hired AMT.
If Green Party candidates' names are on the November ballot then Democrats will suffer, Meloy argued, because Green Party candidates could potentially take votes away from Democrats, which is the reason the party brought the complaint.
The Green Party has a candidate in the U.S. Senate race, which is already expected to be a tight battle between incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester and Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale.
"This harm is in no way lessened if, as the secretary proposes, ballots are printed containing unqualified Green Party candidates, but votes for Green Party candidates are not counted," the party argued.
Allowing Green Party candidates to remain on the ballot "would be particularly inappropriate if the actual aim of the petition gathering firm (or the still-unknown entity that retained the petition gathering firm) ... was not in fact to elect Green Party candidates to office, but rather to siphon votes from Democratic Party candidates," Meloy wrote.