Democracy in Action 

Open season on initiatives

The uncertainty swirling around the five ballot initiatives Montana voters are weighing deepened Oct. 3 when a new group called Montanans for Equal Application of Initiative Law filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the remaining two initiatives—I-151, which would raise the minimum wage, and I-153, which would restrict elected officials’ post-office lobbying—placed before voters.

In recent weeks, a trio of initiatives that would cap government spending, allow the recall of judges and restrict government takings were invalidated by a Montana district judge who found “pervasive fraud” in the signature-gathering efforts that qualified the measures for the ballot. That decision has been appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled.

In the new legal challenge, Randy Pinocci of Montanans for Equal Application of Initiative Law holds that all five ballot initiatives should be declared either valid or invalid alike.

“Every initiative placed on the ballot this year used the same strategies and guidelines to obtain signatures,” Pinocci says. “All should be treated the same regardless of political ideology or intent. If they are not treated the same, then the system breaks down…”

As of Oct. 10, no hearing had been scheduled for the latest challenge.

Meanwhile, the question of how voters should approach the in-limbo initiatives goes unanswered.

Janice Doggett, chief legal counsel for the Secretary of State, says: “People are encouraged to vote, if they choose, on them.”

But whether those votes will be counted remains to be seen, she says. Unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, the first three initiatives have been decertified and votes won’t be recorded. And until a court weighs in on the legitimacy of the remaining two, Doggett says, votes on those measures will be counted.

Confusion on the part of voters and voting officials alike can be excused; in the past, initiatives have rarely been challenged pre-election, let alone five of them.

“Every election season is busy,” says Doggett, “but in terms of the flurry of litigation, this is as much as I recall ever seeing. It’s amazing.”

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