ACLU Sues Over Ballot Access for Independent Candidates

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state over ballot access rules for independent and minor-party candidates, seeking to get an independent candidate eligible for the U.S. Senate race.

The ACLU says its federal lawsuit charges that Montana’s system for such candidates to get on the ballot is burdensome and unconstitutional. It is asking a federal court to ban enforcement of the laws for this year’s election, and to put Steve Kelly on the ballot.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf Kelly, of Bozeman, who says he wanted to run as a U.S. Senate candidate but was stymied by the rules.

“Montana’s rules stack the deck against candidates who don’t belong to a major party,” Kelly said in a release.

The Montana attorney general’s office said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit, and would comment when the agency responds in court.

The ACLU said the minor-party candidates need to gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes the previous winner of that office received in the prior election. A new state law also increased the filing fee and moved the deadline from June to March.

The Montana secretary of state’s office says that the Libertarian and Constitution parties have met rules to run statewide candidates in primaries, along with the Republicans and Democrats. Those parties can qualify by past performance in elections.

The ACLU of Montana said the system is stacked against the third-party candidates.

For Kelly, who wants to run as an independent against incumbent U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and whichever Republican wins that party’s nomination in June, the rules would require him to get 9,993 signatures.

“Montana’s system unduly protects the major parties from competition, limits voter choice, and ultimately undermines our democracy,” said Bryan Sells, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

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