Time down to zero as Montana initiative petition deadline arrives
By Al Ortiz and Michael Noyes
GALLATIN COUNTY, Montana: With just hours to spare, sponsors of all 10 circulating initiatives spread out across Montana today to deliver petition signatures to county clerks across the state. The Treasure State's petition drive deadline arrived, whether initiative organizers were ready or not to submit their months, and in one case, week of signature gathering to appropriate counties. Signatures must have been submitted to the courthouses of state counties in which signatures are collected from by 5 p.m. MST.
According to the Montana Secretary of State's office, eleven initiatives had been approved for circulation out of 26 total proposals that had been submitted by hopeful sponsors, with one circulating initiative withdrawing their signature gathering efforts. In an unusual twist, the Secretary of State certified a medical marijuana repeal proposal just seven days before the deadline, on June 11, 2010, leaving organizers little time to gather the required 24,337 signatures for the ballot. That small amount of time was due to the fact that organizers submitted their proposal on May 25, 2010, allowing minimal time for the Secretary of State to approve the measure for circulation. The measure would repeal the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which legalized medical marijuana in the state.
[[Montana 2010 ballot measures#Circulating|Other initiatives approved for circulation included a proposal that would define life as the beginning of conception. The measure had been closely watched by both supporters and opponents, with Planned Parenthood the main organization against the measure and the Montana ProLife Coalition being the main supporters and sponsors of the proposal.
Two other initiatives that were circulating for signatures deal with the issue of wildlife in the state, in more ways than one. One measure would increase nonresident big game hunting license fees and abolish outfitter-sponsored licenses. The other measure would prohibit the trapping of all wild mammals and birds on public lands in the state.
In Bozeman, Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder Charlotte Mills said about 10 people had stopped by to drop off petitions as of late afternoon. Another three people came to her office at the Gallatin County Courthouse with petitions over the next hour. According to Mills, “To me this is pretty normal, what we’re seeing today."
About an hour before the deadline, Salvador Navarro dropped off 25 signatures aimed at getting the aforementioned medical marijuana repeal on the November 2 general election ballot.
“I think it’s important that we protect our families and protect our kids,” said Navarro, a 50-year-old Bozeman resident, about the initiative.
Navarro said he personally supports allowing residents who truly need the plant for medical purposes to have it. However, he said current law has been abused to increase the sale of marijuana in the black market and other related crimes. Navarro stated: “It’s totally out of control."
Mills said her office has accepted petitions regarding all of the approved circulating initiatives that supporters hoped to place on the ballot. Her office will then verify that those who signed are registered voters in the county and that the signatures on the petitions match the signatures on voter registration records.
The Gallatin County office and other county offices have until July 16 to certify petitions and turn them in to the secretary of state’s office. August 19 is the deadline for the secretary of state to certify initiatives to be placed on the ballot, according to Mills.
In order to qualify a measure for the ballot, organizers must altogether collect at least 48,673 signatures for proposed initiated constitutional amendments and 24,337 signatures for proposed initiated state statutes. Those numbers represent 10% of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial general election for amendments and 5% for statutes. The June 18, 2010 deadline for initiatives represents the third Friday of the fourth month prior to the election at which measures are proposed to be voted upon by the people, according to Montana initiative law.