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Montana Primary Election Revision Measure, LR-127 (2014)

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The Montana Primary Election Revision Measure, LR-127 did not make the November 4, 2014 ballot in Montana as a legislatively-referred state statute. The measure would have established a “top-two” primary election system. Montana’s “top-two” system would have applied to partisan state office elections only.[1]

The measure was sponsored in the Montana Legislature by State Senator Alan Olson (R-23) as SB 408.[2]

On March 24, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court removed the measure from the ballot for not meeting length requirements. Chief Justice Mike McGrath said, "The Legislature chose to place the 100-word limitation into the statute and must comply with its own law when referring a matter to the people for the vote. Furthermore, the title of LR-127 is not a mere technical violation of the statute, but is substantially in excess of the 100-word limit imposed by the Legislature."[3]

Text of measure

The official ballot text read as follows:[1]

LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 127

AN ACT REFERRED BY THE LEGISLATURE

AN ACT GENERALLY REVISING ELECTION LAWS; PROVIDING THAT THE TWO CANDIDATES WHO RECEIVE THE MOST VOTES IN CERTAIN PRIMARY ELECTIONS FOR PARTISAN OFFICES ADVANCE TO THE GENERAL ELECTION IRRESPECTIVE OF PARTY AFFILIATION; ELIMINATING SEPARATE PARTY BALLOTS AND PROVIDING FOR ONE PRIMARY BALLOT CONTAINING ALL PRIMARY RACES; PROVIDING THAT THE PROPOSED ACT BE SUBMITTED TO THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS OF MONTANA; AMENDING SECTIONS 2-16- 615, 5-2-402, 5-2-403, 5-2-404, 5-2-406, 7-2-2219, 7-3-176, 7-3-218, 7-3-313, 7-3-412, 7- 3-512, 7-3-704, 7-3-1256, 7-4-2106, 7-4-2206, 7-4-2302, 7-4-2310, 7-4-4112, 13-1-101, 13-1-103, 13-4-102, 13-10-201, 13-10-203, 13-10-204, 13-10-209, 13-10-211, 13-10-301, 13-10-325, 13-10-326, 13-10-327, 13-10-402, 13-10-403, 13-10-404, 13-10-405, 13-10- 501, 13-10-504, 13-10-505, 13-12-201, 13-12-202, 13-12-203, 13-12-205, 13-12-207, 13- 13-214, 13-13-225, 13-13-241, 13-14-111, 13-14-112, 13-14-113, 13-14-114, 13-14-115, 13-14-117, 13-14-118, 13-15-201, 13-15-205, 13-15-206, 13-15-208, 13-15-405, 13-15- 406, 13-15-507, 13-16-101, 13-16-201, 13-16-211, 13-16-412, 13-16-418, 13-16-419, 13- 16-501, 13-17-103, 13-19-205, 13-21-205, 13-25-101, 13-25-201, 13-25-205, 13-25-303, 13-35-106, 13-35-205, 13-35-206, 13-35-207, 13-35-214, 13-35-218, 13-35-221, 13-35- 225, 13-35-226, 13-36-101, 13-36-102, 13-36-103, 13-36-104, 13-36-201, 13-36-202, 13- 36-203, 13-36-206, 13-36-207, 13-36-209, 13-36-210, 13-36-211, 13-36-212, 13-37-127, 13-37-216, 13-37-218, 13-38-101, AND 13-38-201, MCA; REPEALING SECTIONS 13-10-302, 13-10-303, 13-10-305, 13-10-311, 13-10-502, 13-10-503, 13-10-507, 13-10- 601, 13-10-602, 13-10-604, AND 13-38-204, MCA; AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE AND AN APPLICABILITY DATE.

The 2013 Legislature submitted this proposal for a vote. LR-127 generally amends election laws to provide that the two candidates who receive the most votes in certain primary elections for partisan offices will advance to the general election irrespective of political party affiliation. Candidates may state a political party preference that will appear on the ballot. LR-127 does not amend the primary process for party precinct elections or presidential primary elections. LR-127 amends primary election balloting by requiring all races to appear on the same ballot. LR-127 also generally amends certain related procedures regarding vacancies, write-in candidates, withdrawal of candidates, recall petitions, election judges, filing deadlines, certification of votes, ballot form and uniformity requirements, recounts, electioneering, election challenges, and contribution limitations.

[ ] YES on Legislative Referendum LR-127

[ ] NO on Legislative Referendum LR-127 [4]

Support

The measure was introduced into the legislature by Sen. Alan Olson (R-23).[2]

Supporters

Arguments

Arguments made in support of the measure included:[5]

  • Sen. Olson said that the measure would ensure that the majority is represented in the legislature. He cited his own election as an example of what the measure would address, saying, "I won my seat with 42 percent of the vote. So that means that 58 percent of the people who voted didn’t vote for me. I kind of wonder sometimes if that’s fair."
  • Former Sen. Jeff Laszloffy (R-22) said, “We cannot have a minority viewpoint represented as a majority viewpoint in the Legislature.”
  • Professor James Lopach suggested that with the top-two primary system, “You know that if you want to get elected, you can’t just direct your message to the left wing or the right wing of the party. You have to direct it to the middle.”

Opposition

Opponents

Officials

  • Missoula City Councilmember Pam Walzer (D)[5]

Organizations

  • Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers[6]
  • Montana Women Vote[7]

Arguments

  • Montana Women Vote’s Sarah Howell contended, “127 would create what’s called a “top-two primary.”  That means that only the top two candidates from the primary election go on to the general election ballot. It takes away our independent voice by limiting our choices in the general election to just two candidates. And, as if it isn’t confusing enough already, it repeals so much existing law that it will be tied up in court for decades, costing Montana taxpayers millions of dollars.”[7]
  • Missoula City Councilmember Pam Walzer (D) described a situation where one party is running multiple candidates while the other is running only one. She said, “Instead of people being able to vote for their party preference, the party will determine who is the one best candidate to move forward. They won’t be able to risk having a large primary.”[5]
  • Mike Fellows, chairperson of the Montana Libertarian Party, expressed concern that the “true motive” behind LR-127 is the Montana Republican Party’s recent losses. He specifically referred to the 2012 Senate election in which Senator Jon Tester (D) won with less than 50% of the vote. He said the Republican Party's goal is to "get rid of the competition, namely Libertarians."[8] He elaborated elsewhere, saying, "Montana voters want their views heard in the general election, and LR-127 would limit those views. Libertarians support the free market of ideas in politics, but the Montana Republican Party wanted to control the free market through LR-127 to achieve its goals."[9]

Related lawsuits

See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2014

MEA-MFT, et al. v. Fox

2014 measure lawsuits
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On November 27, 2013, the MEA-MFT, AFL-CIO, Montana Public Employees Association, Montana Human Rights Network and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers filed a lawsuit with the Montana Supreme Court in an attempt to remove LR-127 from the ballot. The petitioners claimed that LR-127’s title language was too long, as Montana statute limits the titles of referred statutes to 100 words. The measure’s title was 196 words long. Furthermore, they argued that LR-127 contained more than one subject as the measure would have both adopted an open primary system and a top two primary system. Therefore, the measure was “legally insufficient as a ballot measure.”[10] The Attorney General, the respondent, stated, “Since Petitioners have failed to allege untruth, partiality, argumentation, or prejudice in the ballot statement, and because they did not provide an alternate ballot statement pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. § 13-27-316(3)(b), the Court should reject their arguments regarding the statement of purpose and implication.”[11]

On March 24, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court ruled, in a 6 to 1 decision, to remove LR-127 from the ballot. They ruled that the title "does not comply with the plain meaning of the Legislature’s 100-word limit." Chief Justice Mike McGrath said, "The Legislature chose to place the 100-word limitation into the statute and must comply with its own law when referring a matter to the people for the vote. Furthermore, the title of LR-127 is not a mere technical violation of the statute, but is substantially in excess of the 100-word limit imposed by the Legislature." The Supreme Court also found the measure's title "complicated and confusing." Attorney General Tim Fox's spokesperson, John Barnes, stated, "Based on this new guidance from the Montana Supreme Court, the Legislature will need to revisit its rules governing the submission of referendums to voters."[3]

Path to the ballot

See also: Legislatively-referred state statutes in Montana

A simple majority was required in both chambers to pass the legislatively-referred state statute and place it on the ballot in Montana. The bill was approved through a vote in both legislative chambers. SB 408 was approved by the Montana House of Representatives on April 17, 2013. SB 408 was approved by the Montana State Senate on April 19, 2013.[2]

Senate vote

April 19, 2013 Senate vote

Montana SB 408 Senate Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 29 59.18%
No2040.82%

House vote

April 17, 2013 House vote

Montana SB 408 House Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 58 58.00%
No4242.00%

See also

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