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Lawsuit: MT Barriers for Third Party Candidates “Unconstitutional”

April 10, 2008

Helena, MT – Getting on the ballot for statewide office in Montana is easy -- if you're a Republican or a Democrat, that is. If not, there are myriad laws regarding signature-gathering, tighter deadlines, and fees that make the task practically impossible, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The ACLU of Montana alleges the state's system is unconstitutional, unfairly protecting the major political parties from third-party competitors, with the ultimate effect of limiting voter choice. The suit was filed on behalf of Steve Kelly of Bozeman, who ran as an independent candidate for a U.S. House seat in 1994, before the latest round of requirements became law.

"They've pushed this out past the point where anybody would even consider thinking about a statewide election. They've made it prohibitive. It's almost impossible now to get on the ballot."

Kelly says it's odd that the legislature has spent so much time passing laws that restrict ballot access, since third-party candidates have rarely run for office. In fact, he was the first to do so in more than 50 years, when he ran in 1994.

"In Montana, I just don't see what they're so afraid of. I'm the only one in over a half-century who has done this, so they appear to be afraid of one person, it seems to me."

Supporters of the requirements say the additional rules for independent candidates help cut down on the cost of preparing ballots.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MT