Initiative Update 

Which votes won’t count

This isn’t an endorsement, but if you want to make life a little easier for your election administrators, don’t vote on constitutional initiatives 97 and 98 and Initiative 154 on Nov. 7.

Last week the Montana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Sept. 13 decision by a Great Falls district judge who ruled that the three anti-government ballot measures, promoted by the mysteriously funded Montanans in Action, were invalid due to “pervasive fraud” by paid out-of-state signature gatherers. However, the measures will still appear on the ballot because the ballots were printed and mailed prior to the high court’s ruling.

“They will not be counted,” Secretary of State spokesman Bowen Greenwood says of any votes cast for the three measures: CI-97, a government spending cap; CI-98, allowing citizen recall of judges, and I-154, an eminent-domain restriction and takings law hybrid. “County election officials will be instructed not to count, report or canvas those numbers.”

Proponents of the measures argued that the lower court denied them a meaningful hearing because the court required them to proceed without adequate time for discovery. But according to Patricia O. Cotter’s written opinion, that’s the proponents’ fault.

“We conclude that any deprivation of a meaningful hearing here was more the construct of Proponents’ own failure to act than it was a function of the District Court’s denial of more time for trial preparation.”

Voters showing up at the polls on Election Day will be advised that they can still vote on the remaining ballot measures: I-151, which raises the state minimum wage to $6.15 and adds an annual cost-of-living adjustment; and I-153, a measure that prohibits legislators and certain state employees from becoming licensed lobbyists for two years after leaving office.

A recent challenge to I-153 by a group called Montanans for Equal Application of Initiative Laws has not yet been heard by the courts, however, Bowen doesn’t expect a decision that would impact Tuesday’s election.

“[I-153] is still on the ballot and at this point there’s been nothing from the courts that says those votes don’t count,” he says.

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