HELENA — The chairman of the Montana Republican Party on Wednesday sought an order from the state Supreme Court to remove a Libertarian candidate for secretary of state from November’s election ballot.
Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, argued in his petition that Roger Roots is not eligible as a candidate because Roots didn’t file required campaign finance disclosures and reports in time. Essmann also asked the court for a temporary restraining order preventing county election officials from printing ballots that have Roots’ name on them while the case is pending.
Roots is considered a long-shot candidate for secretary of state against Republican Corey Stapleton, a former state senator, and Democrat Monica Lindeen, the current state auditor.
Essmann denied that the effort is aimed at giving Stapleton an edge in the race by eliminating a third-party candidate who might siphon Republican votes.
“I think Corey’s running a very strong race, and I anticipate that he will win one way or another,” Essmann said. “I just want the law enforced.”
Roots did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
The Supreme Court gave current Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, who are named as defendants, until noon Monday to respond to Essmann’s petition. The court also told McCulloch to notify county election officials about the pending case.
McCulloch said in a statement that Roots filed the appropriate documents with her office to place him on the ballot. But she said she also advised county election officials who have not yet printed ballots to wait — unless a delay would result in the ballots not getting to military and overseas voters by Sept. 23, as required by law.
Motl said Roots filed the necessary documents, though one was lost by one of his staff members. The candidate erroneously combined two others, Motl said.
Roots filed a single campaign finance report on Aug. 12 that covered two reporting periods, Motl said. The candidate should have filed two separate reports, and the failure to do so normally results in a fine, he said.
“Late filing is a campaign finance violation, but it’s not anything that should keep you from the ballot,” Motl said.
Essmann also says Roots also did not turn in a financial disclosure statement required when a candidate initially files for office. Motl responded that Roots filed the proper documentation in March, but the document was misplaced by his staff.
“We know he filed it,” Motl said. “We’re confident we’ll eventually find it.”
Essmann said that’s not good enough.
“If he has proof that it was filed, he should produce it,” Essmann said.
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