The Tuesday Count: Montana Supreme Court boots top-two primary referral from ballot

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April 1, 2014

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Edited by Ryan Byrne

1 certification
66 measures for 2014

Elections (News)
Minimum wage (Quick hits)
Marijuana (Spotlight)

2014 ballot measures
The Montana Supreme Court was faced with a daunting task, namely, to determine whether or not numbers count as words in ballot titles. The contested ballot title was for the Montana Primary Election Revision Measure, known in the legislature as Legislative Referendum No. 127. The legislatively-referred state statute aimed to establish a “top-two” primary election system, much like the one in California.[1] According to the supreme court, there were three possible ways to count the statute numbers: "[1] ignore all the statutory citations; [2] count each of the statutory citations as one word; or [3] treat each of the statutory citations as the number of words required to say the citation (“13-12-203” would be counted as “thirteen, twelve, two zero three” for a total of five words)." The only way," however, "to find that the title complies with § 5-4-102, MCA, is to ignore each of the statutory citations." The court majority concluded, after examining similar court cases and consulting with a number of dictionaries, that "[t]he usual and ordinary meaning of a “word” includes any character or set of charters separated by whitespace, which includes numbers. This definition of “word” is widely supported." They also noted, "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 a vote." The court also concluded the ballot title was likely to be "complicated and confusing" to the general public. The point of the ballot title requirement is "to insure that voters are not misled or confused by complex titles of the measure in the ballot language." They stated that understanding all the "numbers" would take even "persons well-versed in the law a substantial amount of time and study to understand the details and implications of these changes." Led by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, the measure was removed from the upcoming general election ballot. The lone dissenting judge was Justice Laurie McKinnon.[2] Senate President Jeff Essmann (R-28) criticized the ruling, saying, "It seems like the court has taken an extremely technical approach toward interpretation of these statutes by counting every listed number as a word, therefore once again frustrating the popularly elected Legislature from placing a measure before voters for their consideration."[3]

The MEA-MFT, AFL-CIO, Montana Public Employees Association, Montana Human Rights Network and the AFSCME initiated the lawsuit which led to the measure's judicial defeat.[4] They weren't the only parties to object to the measure, however. Both the Democratic Party and Libertarian Party were vocal critics, criticizing the act as an attempt to eliminate the competitive Libertarian Party. State Senator Alan Olson (R-23), who sponsored LR-127, 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."[5]

While this brings the total number of measures on the 2014 ballot down to 65, another measure was placed on the ballot in Michigan, thus bringing the number back up to 66. The Michigan Use Tax and Community Stabilization Share would, upon voter approval, reduce the state use tax, create a community stabilization share from use tax revenues and increase the portion of state use tax revenues dedicated to school districts. It will be the second measure featured on Michigan's August 5, 2014 primary ballot.[6]

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2014 Count
Number: 66 measures
States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming

Quick hits

Inflation indexed minimum wage amendment introduced in Minnesota: Sen. Ann Rest (D-45) introduced an Inflation Adjusted Minimum Wage Amendment, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, into the Minnesota Legislature on March 27, 2014. The amendment would increase the hourly minimum wage to $10 on January 1, 2015 and adjust the wage annually based on inflation.[7] Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk, who is co-sponsoring the amendment, said, "The constitution is intended to protect the rights of the minority. These low-wage workers are a minority of Minnesotans. This gives them some protection that their wages would keep up with inflation. It meets my test that this is important enough that it belongs in the constitution."[8]

Idaho may aim to privatize alcohol sales in 2015: Joe Gilliam, President of the Northwest Grocery Association, suggested that an initiated state statute may develop to privatize alcohol sales in Idaho in 2015. Rep. Steven Harris (R-21A) is a vocal proponent of privatizing the state's control of the liquor industry. He said, "It’s not a proper function of government to be selling and distributing liquor." He further commented, "It’s all about the revenue with liquor sales. Legislators generally don’t want to reduce the amount of money they have to spend."[9] Gov. Butch Otter (R) has stated that he would not support a legislative attempt to privatize liquor sales.[10]

Zero measures on the Wisconsin ballot: The Wisconsin Assembly adjourned for the year on March 21, 2014.[11] Democrats, who are the legislative minority party, wanted two advisory questions on the ballot, but were unable to establish enough supporters to bring their measures up for a vote. The Nonpartisan Redistricting System Question would have asked voters whether they want a nonpartisan system for redistricting the state’s legislative districts and congressional districts.[12] The second measure, the Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Ruling Question, would have asked voters whether the Wisconsin congressional delegation should propose and support a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. F.E.C and whether the Wisconsin Legislature should ratify such an amendment.[13]


Legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin will be voted on by Dane County residents today:

Madison NORML 2 2.png

On January 9, 2014, the Dane County Supervisors unanimously voted to put this non-binding referendum question before voters, asking, "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?"[14] If approved, this referendum question would authorize a county resolution calling on state legislators to legalize marijuana in the state of Wisconsin. The referendum ballot measure was sponsored by county supervisors Leland Pan, who is up for re-election today, and Kyle Richmond. It was also endorsed by Nate Petreman, who acts as president of the Madison branch of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The measure is a non-binding, advisory vote only, which means that no legislation will be directly enacted through the approval of the question. Despite its merely advisory nature, however, many supporters have said that this measure will send a powerful message to the state legislature.[15]

Richmond noted that 75% of Dane County residents voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana use in a 2010 advisory question. He concluded, "The momentum is clearly in favor of decriminalization."[15]

Petreman said, "Put the question before the people. I urge our representatives in state government to listen to what the people say."[15]

Gary Storck of Is My Medicine Legal Yet said, "There's a tremendous buzz on this around the country. We saw tremendous excitement in Colorado when storefronts opened there January 1. So this is something people are interested in and I think the sooner we can let citizens weigh in, the better."[14]

The Cap Times editorial board published an article calling for the approval of this referendum in April. The editorial said:

The Capital Times has for many years supported efforts to decriminalize and legalize marijuana. The lessons of other countries, and now other states, show that there are smart alternatives to pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the investigations, prosecutions and incarcerations that are associated with the failed attempt to impose prohibition on cannabis. In addition, we believe that legalization would address the racial disparity in arrest rates for marijuana-related charges -- and in so doing begin a broader process of criminal justice reform that is long overdue.

With all of this in mind, we are enthusiastically supportive of a “yes” vote on the proposal on the April 1 Dane County ballot, which asks: “Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?”

Of course it should. [16]

—The Cap Times editorial board, [17]

The editorial went on to call for voters to turn out in overwhelming numbers to approve the referendum in order to send a very strong message to state legislators.[17]

A measure that would repeal a town pot retail ban and allow the sale of recreational marijuana going forward if approved is also being voted on today in the town of Palmer Lake in El Paso County, Colorado.

Voters in Eau Claire City and Eau Claire County will express their opinion of the $50 million Confluence Project in today's election:

Pro-Confluence Project image on Eau Claire Regional Art Center website

The Confluence Project, a $50 million plan for the development of a community arts center, retail/commercial space, parking and university student housing, has fueled a heated battle between opponents of large public spending and performing arts enthusiasts teamed up with developers. The contention surrounding the project has triggered two ballot measures, one for city voters and one on a countywide scale, concerning the Confluence Project construction. The city measure is an initiative put before voters by opponents of the proposed $5 million in city funding for the Confluence. The Citizen Referendum Committee, who sponsored the initiative, went beyond the project itself, seeking to amend the Eau Claire city charter to permanently put the public funding of similar projects in the hands of the voters instead of the city council. If approved, the initiative would require voter approval in a citywide referendum before the city could authorize any contribution higher than $1 million to the construction of a performing arts building. Although the approval of this initiative does not directly refer to the funding of the Confluence Project, it would necessitate voter approval before the project could continue and would trigger a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters whether or not the city should go through with the $5 million subsidy.[15]

The county measure is more straight forward and directly concerns the proposed development itself. This measure was put on the ballot by the county board of directors and asks voters if they approve or disapprove of a $3.5 million contribution to the Confluence Project to be made out of the county coffers.[18]

The Confluence project, which fueled these ballot measures, is named for its proposed location at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in downtown Eau Claire, commonly called the "Haymarket Site." The site is along Eau Claire Street and Graham Avenue. The completed project would include a new community arts center, retail/commercial space suitable for restaurants, bars, retail businesses, offices and parking and about 100 privately owned and operated student housing apartments. The general development plan includes the possibility of expanding the project along South Barstow Street. The Eau Claire Regional Arts Council (ECRAC), along with community performing and fine arts organizations and the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, would have access to the arts center.[19]

To see the results of these measures as they become available later tonight, stay turned to Ballotpedia's coverage of April 1 ballot measures.

See also

2014 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2014 Scorecard


  1. Washington Post, "Montana court blocks top two primary measure — for now," March 26, 2014
  2. Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court, "Opinion and Order," accessed March 26, 2014
  3. Helen Independent Record, "Measures stripped from 2014 ballot," March 26, 2014
  4. Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court, “Brief - Petitioners' Opening Brief”," accessed April 1, 2014
  5. Montana Public Media, "Legislators refer big changes in elections to Montana voters," April 21, 2013
  6. Michigan Legislature, "Enrolled Senate Bill No. 822," accessed March 28, 2014
  7. Minnesota Legislature, "SF 2917 Text," accessed March 28, 2014
  8. San Francisco Gate, "Voters could get say on auto-hikes to minimum wage," March 27, 2014
  9. Idaho Reporter, "Voter initiative likely best resort to privatizing liquor sales in Idaho," March 28, 2014
  10. The Spokesman Review, "Otter on liquor privatization: ‘Not as long as I’m governor’," October 9, 2013
  11. Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Wisconsin Assembly adjourns session for year, passes oral chemotherapy bill," March 21, 2014 (dead link)
  12. Wisconsin Legislature, "Assembly Joint Resolution 80," accessed April 1, 2014
  13. Wisconsin Legislature, "Assembly Joint Resolution 50," accessed April 1, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 The Examiner, "Dane County votes to put pot legalization advisory referendum on Spring ballots," January 10, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3, "Marijuana referendum could be on Dane County ballot," December 5, 2014
  16. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  17. 17.0 17.1 The Cap Times, "Vote 'yes' for legalization of marijuana," March 25, 2014
  18. Volume One, "Referendums at the Ready," February 6, 2014
  19. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, "Frequently asked questions: The Confluence Project," accessed March 21, 2014