US high court denies bid to restore Greens on Montana ballot

FILE – In this Nov. 13, 2108, file photom Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is flanked by his elections director Dana Corson, right, and chief of staff Christi Jacobsen as they wait to testify before a legislative committee in Helena, Mont. Stapleton, a Republican, said Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, he is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that took the Montana Green Party off the November ballot after Republicans bankrolled the effort to get them on it. (AP Photo/Matt Volz,File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied an attempt by the Montana secretary of state to restore Green Party candidates to the November ballot.

The ruling came less than a week after the Montana Supreme Court upheld an Aug. 7 ruling by district Judge James Reynolds that granted the requests of more than 560 people to remove their names from ballot petitions after they learned the Republican Party had bankrolled the $100,000 signature-gathering effort and violated finance laws by not reporting the spending.

Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton filed a motion Monday to halt the state Supreme Court order. It was denied by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

Kagan’s decision makes it increasingly likely the Green Party will remain off the ballot in the November election. Election administrators are required to start sending printed ballots to absent military and overseas voters by Sept. 18.

Stapleton did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Stapleton’s certification of the November ballot, sent to counties late Thursday, included an asterisk saying the secretary and other parties were challenging the Montana Supreme Court decision. Stapleton can still file an appeal on the Montana Supreme Court’s decision, which could impact future signature-gathering efforts.

Green Party candidates are believed to draw votes away from Democratic candidates. Stapleton alleged the Green Party’s removal was aimed at eliminating political competition for Democrats.

Several high-stakes races are on the ballot this November, including Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock challenging Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is facing off against Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte in the race to fill the governor’s seat. With tens of millions of dollars pouring in, both races are expected to be competitive, and the two parties are seeking any edge possible.

The U.S. Supreme Court filing came after the Montana Supreme Court issued an expedited ruling on Aug. 19 upholding an Aug. 7 ruling from Reynolds that granted the requests of over 560 people to remove their names from ballot petitions after they learned the Montana Green Party did not support the effort.

Stapleton rejected those requests, saying they were filed after a deadline. Reynolds granted the signature-removal requests, saying there was no such deadline in state law. The ruling left the Green Party without enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The Democratic Party and four people who signed Green Party petitions had sued after Stapleton refused requests to remove signatures from the petitions.

Stapleton is not seeking re-election after making an unsuccessful bid in the June primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat that is being vacated by Gianforte.

Reynolds’ decision marks the second time in two years that he removed Green Party candidates from the ballot.

In 2018, in another complaint filed by the Montana Democratic Party, he invalidated signatures that didn’t match those on file with counties and invalidated others that were submitted by people who did not collect the signatures.

It was never determined who was behind the 2018 effort to get Green Party candidates on the Montana ballot. But the Green Party of Montana said it was not behind the efforts in 2018 or 2020.

The 2019 Legislature passed a law requiring timely reporting of spending on minor party ballot-qualification efforts.

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