Election officials begin checking signatures for Montana ballot measures

Petition Signatures
Posted at 6:41 PM, Jun 24, 2024

HELENA — Friday was a key deadline for advocates trying to get ballot measures before Montana voters this year: the last day for them to turn in tens of thousands of petition signatures to county election offices across the state. Now, it’s up to those county officials to go through the signatures and determine which ones meet the requirements.

“There’s a lot of signatures to look at this year, a lot of different ballot initiatives,” said Connor Fitzpatrick, Lewis and Clark County’s election supervisor. “So yeah, our summer is not going to be quiet.”

To get various types of initiatives on the ballot takes signatures from a set percentage of registered voters. A statutory initiative requires 5% of the votes cast for governor in the last election – currently 30,180 – as well as the same 5% share in 34 of Montana’s 100 state legislative districts – 302 in each. A state constitutional amendment needs more than twice that: 10% statewide and in 40 districts – 60,359 and 604, respectively.

On Friday, the committee backing one of the most talked about proposed measures said it had secured almost double the minimum number of signatures it needed. Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights is sponsoring Constitutional Initiative 128, which would amend the Montana Constitution to specifically include “a right to make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.” The committee said it collected more than 117,000 signatures in a campaign lasting just over two months.

Earlier this month, supporters of a pair of proposed constitutional initiatives that would reshape Montana’s election system said they turned in more than 200,000 signatures between the two measures. Montanans for Election Reform is backing CI-126, which would create a top-four primary, and CI-127, which would require election winners to get at least 50% of the vote.

Counties now have four weeks to go through the petitions and verify which signatures are valid. In order to be certified, the signer has to be a registered voter in the county where their signature was submitted. Officials will also check signatures to see if they match with the ones on file for that voter.

“We check every signature that's in your record based on all the forms that you've ever submitted to an elections office,” said Fitzpatrick.

Signatures can also be challenged during the verification process.

By July 19, all counties must forward the petitions and certified signatures to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, which will make the final calculation on which measures cleared the requirements.

Fitzpatrick said Lewis and Clark County will have two full-time employees and two temps working on verification over the coming weeks.

“We’re going to have to keep an eye on that, and we might have to end up bringing in a few more people to help push this across the finish line as we get closer to the July 19 deadline,” he said.

In total, seven proposed initiatives got approval to gather signatures this year. The other four were:

· Constitutional Initiative 124, which would remove the Montana Supreme Court’s authority to oversee admission to the State Bar.
· Constitutional Initiative 125, which would allow a grand jury to convene if a certain percentage of a county’s voters sign a petition.
· Initiative 192, which would designate rodeo as Montana’s state sport.
· Initiative 193, which would prevent the state from creating certain regulations that prevent landowners from hunting deer, elk or black bears on their private property.

Election officials in several of Montana’s largest counties told MTN they received far fewer petitions for those measures than the other three.