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Supporters of ballot measures begin turning in signatures

CI-126/CI-127 Signature Submission
Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 13, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Supporters of a pair of proposed ballot initiatives that would reshape Montana’s election system believe they’ve collected more than enough signatures to get the measures onto the November ballot.

Montanans for Election Reform, the committee backing Constitutional Initiatives 126 and 127, said this week that they’ve collected a total of more than 200,000 signatures between the two measures. On Wednesday, they held a celebration event in Helena, and on Thursday, they submitted signed petitions to county election offices around the state.

“This is up to the voters, and it should be up to the voters,” said Mary Sexton, an MER board member, a former Teton County commissioner and former chair of the Montana Democratic Party.

To get on the ballot, each initiative needs signatures from at least 60,359 registered voters across the state, plus at least 604 in 40 different state House districts. All of those signatures must be turned in to the county where the voter resides by June 21 – a week from Friday.

CI-126 would create a top-four primary in Montana. All candidates from all parties would appear on a single primary ballot, and the four who received the most votes – regardless of party – would go on to the November general election. CI-127 would require the general election winner to get a majority of the vote – at least 50%. It would be up to the Legislature to decide how to implement that, with some possible being a runoff election or a ranked-choice voting system.

Supporters of the initiatives say the current primary system – in which voters receive ballots for all parties but have to choose only one party’s to fill out – limits voters’ choice and encourages candidates to appeal to the extremes of their parties. Sexton said, in many parts of the state, the real competition is in the primary, not the general election.

“Whether it's rural or urban, it leads to a lot of polarization because so few people vote in the primary – and if it's a highly contested primary, even fewer people are actually electing,” she said.

On Thursday, Sexton joined former Great Falls mayor Randy Gray, Choteau Mayor Chris Hindoien and former Great Falls lawmakers Anders Blewett and Tom Jacobson to bring boxes of signed petitions to the Cascade County election administrator.

CI-126/CI-127 Signature Submission
Supporters of proposed ballot measures CI-126 and CI-127 submitted about 15,000 signatures to Cascade County election officials, June 13, 2024.

“I'm very optimistic,” said Gray. “Plus, Montanans, they tend to have common sense, and our hope is that this will appeal to their common sense.”

MER estimated they had about 15,000 signatures combined for the two initiatives in Cascade County. Sexton went on to submit about 600 signatures in Teton County.

MER also held signature submission events Thursday in Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell and Billings.

After June 21, county election offices will have four weeks to check through the signatures and determine whether they’re valid. By July 19, they’ll turn in the certified signatures to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, which will make the final determination on which initiatives meet the requirements to get on the ballot.

A spokesperson for the group told MTN they’ve checked through the signatures themselves and they’re confident the vast majority will be certified valid. She said they received slightly more signatures for CI-126 than for CI-127, but the numbers are fairly close.

Sexton said MER is ready to make the transition from collecting signatures to making the case for voters to support the two measures.

“It's our responsibility to make sure that people understand this, are interested, can ask questions and realize that this really is a great benefit to the state,” she said.

MER’s leaders include several former Republican state lawmakers aligned with the “Solutions Caucus,” a more moderate GOP faction. The Montana Republican Party’s leadership has come out against CI-126. Sexton said the Montana Democratic Party hasn’t taken a position on the measures.

Seven proposed initiatives are currently collecting signatures ahead of the June 21 deadline. In addition to these two, they also include CI-128, which would specifically add abortion rights to Montana’s constitution.