Montana Top-Two Bill Heard in Committee, Draws Little Public Support

On February 19, the Montana House State Administration Committee heard HB 436, which would establish a top-two system for all partisan office except President. No one testified for it except a state legislator. Four Libertarians testified against the bill, as did the Secretary of State.

In Montana, committees do not vote on bills at the hearing; there will probably be a committee vote within a week. Thanks to Mike Fellows for this news. UPDATE: here is a short news story about the hearing. FURTHER UPDATE: here is a much more detailed news article about the hearing.


Montana Top-Two Bill Heard in Committee, Draws Little Public Support — No Comments

  1. “Top-two” is evil. It violates the rights of voters to choose among all candidates in the general election. It violates the freedom of association rights of all the people to form parties and run candidates that will appear in the general election. It violates the freedom of association rights of individuals who join together and form parties to choose their own candidates.

    “Top-two” is an attempt to impose a one-party state as in the old USSR by creating a single primary that will force all individuals to participate in the single party or be left out. Only the one state-controlled party will be allowed to place 2 candidates on the ballot. Everyone else is excluded.

    Everyone should oppose “top-two.”

    It’s time to repeal “top-two” in any form anywhere it has been passed.

  2. #1 The Democrats were very much against the bill, but they had to pretend that they didn’t have a partisan interest.

    I was quite disappointed in Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. She is the poster-child why SOS should not be elected, particularly on a partisan ballot.

    Her main opposition was because of the inclusion of party committee elections, and the presidential preference primary. The party committee election ballots should not be on a state-provided ballot.

    They are particular burden on election officials since votesr choose a precinct committeeman and precinct committeewoman for each election precinct. In practice what happens is that they are hardly ever contested, so they can be left off the ballot, or they end up being filled by appointment.

    Much of the complexity and length of the bill is trying to maintain a ridiculously complex system of appointing legislators to fill vacancies, which includes recommendations by party committees. Simply elect replacements like is done for Congress, and throw away that garbage.

    If a political party wants to take Montana to court on the issue of electing party committees, Montana will certainly lose. Montana is in the same circuit as Arizona, and if anything, Montana’s regulation is more burdensome on political association.

    Montana holds their presidential preference primary in June. The Republicans did not use the results of the primary for their delegate selection, the Libertarians were denied a presidential preference primary, and they had already chosen their presidential candidate the previous month, and the Democratic national party forbids use of primaries where party choices are a secret.

    It was mentioned that the primary had low turnout. But it is quite possible that this was because voters were told that the Republicans were not going to use the results of the presidential primary, and only Obama was on the ballot for the Democrats. “Nothing happening here, wink, wink”, and then go ahead and choose the nominees. Public-sector unions don’t like Top 2, because it is to their advantage to selectively depress turnout in primaries.

    If the political parties are not going to use the results of the presidential preference primary, it is a waste of taxpayer funds.

    If the presidential primary were ripped out, then people might realize that it was stupid to have a primary election 5 months before the general election. Move the primary to September, and people would pay more attention.

    Nobody asked the Secretary of State about ‘Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa’, which she should be familiar with. The federal judge in that case disregarded the plaintiff’s evidence, but interpreted the State’s evidence as meaning that non-Republicans did vote in the Idaho pick-a-party primary.

    In Montana, voters are given the ballots of both parties. They are not given a Libertarian ballot, unless there are contested races. The voter then deposits one ballot in the ballot box, and the other ballot in a discard box. If it is a mail voter, they are sent both ballots, and then must return both ballots.

    All ballots include any non-partisan races. So if someone wanted to vote for a Supreme Court justice (a non-partisan office), they would have to vote a partisan ballot.

    So someone who considers themselves to be a “true independent” might not vote in the primary, thinking it was only for Democrats and Republicans, and be denied the opportunity to vote for a Supreme Court justice.

    Or if someone realized that they had to vote one of the partisan ballots, would they resist the temptation to also weigh-in on the partisan nominations? Quite unlikely. Mail voters are sent both (all) partisan ballots. If they are sent two ballots, can they be expected to only vote one? “You sent me two ballots, if you didn’t want me to vote both of them, why did you send both of them?”

    The Secretary of State also had a sheet with what she called technical problems. But rather than discuss them in a PUBLIC HEARING, she suggested that the representatives come by her office to discuss them.

  3. The filing deadline is in March and with the primary in June most candidates will not have much time to get an organization together with top two. How many candidates would we see with how many different labels on a legislative level as fee’s are only 15.00 dollars.

  4. Representative Reichner could have been better prepared. He presented an example of what he thought the ballot would look like, but he left off the party names next to the candidates.

    He pointed out that candidates would not have to express a preference for a qualified party, but didn’t challenge Mike Fellows assertion that it would prevent candidates from qualifying their party for the next election. Just like in Washington, there is no reason to have party qualification, if you don’t have partisan voter registration or partisan nominations.

    Reichner didn’t have a response to the question from Representative Pat Connell about the legal analyst’s note. The Secretary of State said she thought it would be confusing – but did she consult with election officials in Washington, where the same system was implemented to REMEDY the district court’s finding of unconstitutionality in the Washington Top 2 litigation.

    Mike Fellows suggested that Montana could go to a blanket primary like used to be used in Washington.

    The only way I could see a blanket primary working, would be if it served to both qualify candidates for the general election, and make nominations.

    All candidates would file before the primary. They could also indicate that they are seeking the nomination of one or more political parties. Perhaps some counter-endorsement by the party bosses, or a petition would be required.

    For each race, all candidates would be listed in an open section. Below that would be partisan sections for the candidates seeking the nomination of each party.

    Any candidate who achieved some threshold share of the votes, say 5%, would qualify for the general election. Any party whose nominee candidates collectively achieved that threshold would have the party endorsement appear next to the name of the candidate who received the most party votes for that party.

    Non-partisan races would easily handled by leaving off the nominating section. And it could also be used for the presidential primary.

    Candidates and parties that miss the threshold, could qualify by supplementary petition from voters who did not vote in the primary. This could also include late-filing candidates and parties.

    The general election would require a majority. Leading candidates with a cumulative 80% of the vote would advance to the runoff, though at least one candidate would be eliminated in the general election. Trailing candidates could withdraw before the runoff.

  5. #4 Under HB 436, a candidate could specify his own description, with the length, etc. specified by the Secretary of State.

    Montana hasn’t had a problem with too many candidates running for the legislature. I doubt that being able to say that you are the candidate of the Salmon Yoga party would cause a major influx of candidates.

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