Ballot issue convoluted as deadline nears

Chris Aiken, Pioneer Staff Writer

Montana Democrats are contesting the Green Party’s place on the ballot in 2018, claiming the party failed to collect the number of signatures needed to qualify for the upcoming election. 

The complaint, filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court, claims at least 224 signatures on the Green Party’s petition for ballot access were invalid. Minor parties — those that don’t qualify for the ballot based on previous electoral success — must collect so many signatures in at least 34 counties across Montana (the thresholds differ by county).

After reviewing the petition, Montana Democrats say the Green Party may have reached the required threshold in only 30 counties, making it ineligible for the 2018 ballot. Cheryl Wolfe, Treasurer for the Montana Green Party, disagreed. 

“We believe the signatures are valid,” Wolfe said. “And I think it’s disappointing they’re trying to limit voters’ choices.”

Democrats also accused the Green Party of violating state law by not disclosing help received from an out-of-state electioneering firm as required by law in MCA 13-37-232. A complaint filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices suggested that  employees with the Las Vegas-based firm, Advanced Micro Targeting (AMT), may have spearheaded a last ditch effort to collect signatures on the Green Party’s behalf. According to the complaint, approximately 9,461 signatures were collected by a handful of individuals during the 19-day period leading up to March 4 — the deadline for submitting petitions to the secretary of state’s office.

“The short amount of time, as well as the relatively small number of petition gatherers, suggests that a professional effort to qualify the Green Party was undertaken during this time period,” the complaint stated.

Six of the 13 signature gatherers were allegedly working across state lines, including three men from North Dakota, one from Wisconsin and two from Las Vegas, where AMT is headquartered. At least two of the men— Garrett Laubach of West Fargo, N.D., and Cody Pope of Missoula —  are suspected AMT affiliates.

According to his own LinkedIn profile, Laubach is AMT’s Regional Director in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Pope, who helped lead the effort to collect signatures for the Marsy’s Law ballot initiative in 2015 (for which AMT was paid a total of $462,000) holds the title of “National Campaign Director.”

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