The Montana Democratic Party and three of its supporters filed suit late Monday to remove the Montana Green Party from the 2018 ballot, saying some signatures on petitions used to qualify the party are not valid.
The lawsuit says at least 180 of the signatures turned in last month are invalid, and therefore the Green Party failed to get the minimum required number of signatures in at least 34 state House districts.
The suit asked state District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena to declare the signatures and petitions invalid and block Secretary of State Corey Stapleton or any other election official from placing the Green Party on the 2018 ballot.
Stapleton certified the Green Party for the ballot March 12 – the last possible day that candidate could file to run this year. Six Green Party candidates filed that day, including two for U.S. Senate and one for U.S. House.
Montana Democrats say they suspect conservatives helped the left-leaning Green Party qualify, so its candidates could draw votes away from Democratic candidates in potentially close elections this year for U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
In a statement Monday, Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan said while county clerks did an “outstanding job” reviewing the Green Party petition signatures, they didn’t have enough time to thoroughly review the 9,500 signatures submitted a week before a deadline.
“The evidence suggests that the Republican-linked Nevada firm, Advanced Micro Targeting, which has a history of shoddy and unethical petition-gathering practices, was behind this effort,” she said.
The lawsuit said a “more thorough review” of the signatures in the past few weeks by Democratic Party allies revealed that at least 180 of the signatures are not valid.
Green Party State Coordinator Dani Breck of Missoula told MTN News Tuesday she’s confident that state and county election officials “did their due diligence” while verifying the signatures.
“We … believe this frivolous lawsuit will be unsuccessful and will only serve to unnecessarily waste the state’s resources,” she said.
Stapleton echoed that sentiment Tuesday, noting that county election officials this year underwent specific training on verifying signatures.
“Our clerks have never been better-prepared or better-trained for signature verification than they are right now,” he told MTN News. “I stand by what they did; they did a great job.”
Stapleton, who’s a defendant in the lawsuit, said primary elections are being printed as soon as this week by some counties, and that ballots for Montanans overseas in the military will be mailed April 20.
To qualify for the ballot, the Green Party had to submit petitions by March 5 with the signatures of at least 5,000 registered voters statewide and a minimum amount in at least 34 state House districts.
That district minimum is at least 5 percent of votes cast in the district for the winning gubernatorial candidate 2016 or 150 – whichever is less.
Stapleton said last month the Green Party submitted 7,386 valid signatures statewide and met or surpassed the minimum number of signatures in 38 House districts.
The lawsuit alleges that when 180 signatures that Democrats found to be invalid are removed, the Green Party met the district minimums in only 30 House districts, and therefore did not qualify for the 2018 ballot.
The suit said the signatures are not valid for a variety of reasons: Some entries do not include a valid signature, others are not the same as the person’s voter-file signature, some do not have the required printed name written as well, some have an invalid date.
The suit also noted that the vast majority of signatures turned in to qualify the Green Party – about 9,500 – were gathered in the three weeks before the March 5 deadline but weren’t submitted until that day, giving county clerks only a few days to review them.
“These late-collected signatures appear to have been gathered by a for-profit, out-of-state company, relying heavily on individuals who listed out-of-state addresses on their signature-gatherer affidavits,” the suit said.
The Democratic Party also has filed a campaign complaint against Advanced Micro Targeting of Las Vegas, Nevada, saying it violated state law by not reporting its spending on the effort.
Attempts to reach Advanced Micro Targeting for comment have been unsuccessful.