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) TesterSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Senate confirms Trump's pick to be deputy Treasury secretary O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold 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 BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester 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 ZinkeUndoing the damage Pruitt and Zinke did to our environment The Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government MORE (R), who is now President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate 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.