Montana GOP Asks Supreme Court to Close Primary Elections

Decision could impact June primary in Montana

By Justin Franz

HELENA — Montana Republicans on Friday filed a long-shot appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to block non-GOP voters from participating in their primary elections in June.

The nation’s high court takes up very few of the petitions it receives. If it denies the emergency application for an injunction filed by the Montana Republican Party and eight county central committees, they will have to start preparing for a trial in a lower court that isn’t likely to happen before the June elections, attorney Matthew Monforton said.

“This is our last chance to prevail in the suit before the June 2016 primary,” Monforton said.

Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes did not have an immediate comment.

The county central committees and the state party argue that the state’s open-primary system prevents them from identifying voters who are Republicans, which violates their First Amendment right to associate.

The system also allows Democratic, independent or third-party voters to affect their elections, leading Republican candidates to alter their message to appeal to those crossover voters, they said in their lawsuit against Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and county election administrators.

Attorneys for the state argued that the Republican plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence of their claims and the century-old primary system should not be changed based on the party’s assumptions of crossover voting.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris made an initial ruling against the Republicans’ request to close the June 7 primaries, saying they have too many unproven claims to issue an injunction but allowed the case to proceed to trial. The Republican plaintiffs appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Morris’ ruling on March 3.

The appellate court said the Republicans had not shown their case is likely to succeed or that they would be irreparably harmed if the primaries remained open.


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