Part of GOP Primary Elections Lawsuit Dismissed

Key issue remains over whether Republicans can close their primaries to independents and voters from other parties

By LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — A federal appeals court this week dismissed part of a lawsuit that seeks to allow only Republican voters to participate in Montana’s GOP primaries.

A new state law addresses an aspect of the legal complaint by allowing political parties to make their own rules for choosing internal party leaders.

The law’s passage prompted the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week to grant its dismissal. But the key issue remains over whether Republicans can close their primaries to independents and voters from other parties.

“(The bill) gave us what we want in the second cause of action in our lawsuit,” said Republican legislator and Bozeman attorney Matthew Monforton. He filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last year, which now includes 10 Republican Central Committees and the state GOP party.

Monforton also said the bill was heatedly debated because its passage could potentially make it more difficult to prevail in the lawsuit. Monforton recused himself from voting on the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, said his measure was meant to make it more difficult for a judge to close Republican primaries.

“I had a lot of motivations for the bill, obviously about having an impact on the lawsuit — and it does that,” he said. “I think it nullifies their best claim and makes it harder to prove because as I understand it Monforton was trying to lump all this together so if he could successfully argue @ one point (that) the whole system would have to go.”

Fitzpatrick said now Monforton will have to make his case by showing that non-Republicans are voting in Republican primaries. “I think that’s going to be real hard for him to do,” he said.

But Monforton said they have a solid legal argument for closing GOP primaries. “We have strong evidence that Democrats have been crossing over and impacting results of Republican primaries,” he said.

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