Linda McCulloch, Montana Secretary of State, has asked the legislature to pass HB 120, which was introduced last month by Representative Pat Ingraham (R-Thompson Falls). The bill makes some improvements in ballot access. It moves the non-presidential independent petition deadline from March to late May. This action is being taken because last year, the March petition deadline was held unconstitutional. Assuming the bill passes, the new deadline will be a week before the June primary. Chances are this deadline is still unconstitutional; the Secretary of State would have been far safer if she had made the deadline on primary day.
The bill also eases the requirements for who may qualify as independent candidates for President and Vice-President. Existing law says that an independent candidate can’t have been “associated with a political party for one year prior to submission of the nomination petition.” The existing law then defines “associated with a political party” to mean running for office as a party member. This law was interpreted in 2004 to include presidential and vice-presidential candidates who petition in Montana. In 2004, the Montana Secretary of State told Peter Camejo that he could not be on the ballot as Ralph Nader’s running mate, because Camejo had run for Governor of California in October 2003 as a Green (in the special election caused by the California gubernatorial recall of Gray Davis). Therefore, Nader in Montana had to choose someone else for vice-president; he chose Karen Sanchirico, for Montana only.
The bill eases the restriction. It says the reference to having run for office as a party member only covers people who ran within Montana. If the bill had been in effect in 2004, Camejo’s run in California as a Green in 2003 would have not barred him from the Montana ballot.
The bill also says that all qualified parties may have their own primary, if they have any contested primaries. The existing law says that a ballot-qualified party can’t have a primary, even if it has two candidates for the same office, if it didn’t have candidates running in at least half the partisan races. The existing law was used to prevent the Montana Libertarian Party from having a primary in June 2012, even though two individuals filed for U.S. Senate in the Libertarian primary. Fortunately for the Libertarian Party, one of them dropped out. But if he hadn’t dropped out, the Secretary of State was going to print both Libertarians on the November ballot for U.S. Senate, which would have confused voters and split the Libertarian vote for that office. Thanks to Mike Fellows for news of HB 120.