Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester

Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester
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A Montana judge has ordered state elections officials to remove the Green Party from the November ballot, a boost to Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (D) in his bid for reelection.

Helena District Court Judge James Reynolds invalidated some of the signatures Green Party backers submitted to the secretary of state’s office, either because the signatures did not match those on file, because they did not match a registered voter or because of improper signature-gathering practices.

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As a result, the Green Party did not meet statewide requirements that they submit a total of 5,000 valid signatures gathered across at least 34 of Montana’s 100 state House districts.

The state Democratic Party had sued to block the Green Party’s access to the ballot, claiming Republicans had improperly manipulated the signature-gathering process.

Earlier this year, state Democrats raised concerns after ostensible Green Party supporters turned in more than 7,000 signatures on the final day of qualifying. At least two of those signature-gatherers identified themselves in social media postings as employees of Advanced Micro Targeting, a Republican political consulting firm in Nevada.

The decision means artist and gallery owner Steve Kelly will not appear on November’s ballot against Tester and state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R). That could be a needed assist for Tester, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats seeking reelection this year, who might have feared losing some liberal voters to Kelly.

In a statement, a Green Party spokeswoman blamed the state Democratic Party, in what she called a violation of voters’ rights.

“The Montana Democratic Party’s deep pocketed effort to suppress the vote in Montana has, for the moment, succeeded,” said Danielle Breck. “The [Montana Green Party], however, understands that it is not only our right, but also our duty, as citizens to do everything we can to stand up against such efforts.”

Nancy Keenan, who runs the Montana Democratic Party, celebrated the ruling as a win “against the tactics of out-of-state Republican dark money groups that are blatantly trying to interfere in Montana’s democracy.”

Montana politics are littered with examples of the two major parties flirting with smaller parties in service to their own causes. In 2012, Tester allies went so far as to spend money to bolster the Libertarian candidate.

That year, a super PAC funded by labor and environmental groups backing Tester spent $500,000 on a television ad campaign calling the Libertarian candidate, Dan Cox, “the real conservative.” Cox took almost 32,000 votes that year, while Tester beat then-Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) by a margin of just 18,000 votes.

Montanans are more used to seeing Libertarian candidates on the ballot than they are the Green Party. The state Green Party has only qualified a candidate for two major statewide races in the last two decades; the same candidate challenged then-Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusJudge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester Clients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana MORE (D) in 2002, and then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) in 2004.

A Libertarian candidate, Rick Breckenridge, remains on the ballot against Tester and Rosendale this year. Breckenridge ran for Congress in 2016, claiming 3.2 percent of the vote against then-Rep. Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester Office of Special Counsel looking into Zinke's 'MAGA' socks MORE (R), who is now President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE’s Interior Secretary.

Among Democrats seeking reelection in states Trump won, the president has particularly singled out Tester for attack, slamming him repeatedly since the Veterans' Affairs Committee member help sink the nomination of Trump's former pick to lead the VA.

"Jon Tester showed his true colors with his shameful, dishonest attacks on a great man, a friend of mine, a man that I said, 'Why don't you run the VA, you'll be great.' Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson," Trump said at a campaign rally in Montana on Thursday, where he expressed support for Rosendale.