The Montana secretary of state is asking the Supreme Court to intervene in a fight over whether the Green Party can be on the state ballot this fall – a decision that could have a major impact on a key US Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Secretary of State Cory Stapleton, a Republican, filed an emergency request Monday urging the high court to place a hold on proceedings pending further legal action after lower courts had approved the Green Party absence from the ballot.
“The Secretary is required to soon begin printing general election ballots,” Stapleton wrote. “Under the status quo, these ballots will be printed without the Green Party’s federal and state candidates.”
Montana Republicans earlier this year backed an effort to qualify the Green Party, which has traditionally drawn some liberal voters from the Democrats, for the ballot. But after that was revealed, state Democrats urged enough people who signed petitions to disavow their support.
The secretary of state’s office, however, did not accept requests to remove their support, and so the state Democrats and several people sued. A lower court judge and the state Supreme Court sided with the Democrats, saying the Green Party no longer qualified for November’s contest.
“The Montana courts have, effectively, created chaos out of Montana’s otherwise orderly election process, without ever adequately considering the First Amendment rights of Green Party candidates, voters, and ballot access supporters,” Stapleton wrote Monday. “In fact, no Green Party candidate, supporter, or funder was permitted to intervene in the matter.”
“Rather, at the behest of a rival political party, the Montana courts have effectively voided thousands of votes cast in favor of the Green Party during the state’s primary election and disenfranchised nearly 13,000 qualified electors who signed the petitions to place the Green Party on the ballot,” he continued, adding that “at this late stage, without a stay, the mere passage of time will decide this case, extinguishing any constitutional claims by default and frustrating judicial review.”
The Montana Senate race is expected to be a tight contest, garnering national attention as a potential part of Democrats’ efforts to retake the Senate. Labeled a toss-up race by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, who is a CNN contributor, it is among half a dozen such seats that Democrats are targeting in hopes of netting four seats they would need to ensure control of the chamber if they don’t win the White House.
And it isn’t the only competitive Montana campaign that could be affected by a Green Party presence, or lack thereof. The race for Montana’s at-large House seat was decided by fewer than five points in 2018, and is again competitive this year. Democrats hoped keeping the Green Party off the ticket would be good news for their repeat congressional nominee, Kathleen Williams.
CNN’s Simone Pathe contributed to this report.