One contested primary each for two Montana third parties

Ballot box
Posted at 7:17 PM, May 24, 2024

HELENA — In Montana’s primary elections, voters get the chance to choose which party’s ballot to fill out. This year, they’ll have three or four options, depending on where they live.

Voters in Montana’s eastern congressional district will pick one of three ballots – for Republicans, Democrats or the Green Party. Those living in the western district will have the same options, plus a ballot for the Libertarians.

The Montana Green Party has had an up-and-down path to this year’s primary. In 2018 and 2020, petition drives sought to qualify the party for ballot access – once with backing from Republicans. In both years, the party held a primary, but legal action removed them from the ballot before the general election.

However, in 2022, the party and the Montana Secretary of State’s Office reached a consent agreement to resolve a federal lawsuit. As part of that agreement, the state accepted one of the requirements for qualifying third parties was unconstitutional and unenforceable, and they allowed Green Party candidates on the ballot for the next election cycle.

Only two candidates filed as Greens this year, both in the race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat. Robert Barb, of Darby, ran as a Green Party candidate for governor in 2020. On his campaign website, he says he lives “off the grid” and mostly hunts, fishes and grows his own food. Michael Downey, of Helena, is the drought program coordinator for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

For other statewide, congressional and legislative races, the only option for Green Party voters will be writing someone in.

The Montana Libertarian Party has had ballot access for more than two decades, because of the support they’ve received in statewide elections. This year, their only contested primary is for the western district U.S. House seat. The two candidates listed on the ballot are Dennis Hayes and Ernie Noble.

Because the House race is for a district, not statewide, that meant the Secretary of State’s Office determined the statewide Libertarian candidates were all nominated “by acclamation” and there was no need to include them on the primary ballot. Those candidates – U.S. Senate candidate Sid Daoud, gubernatorial candidate Kaiser Leib, secretary of state candidate John Lamb, and clerk of Supreme Court candidate Roger Roots – will appear on the general election ballot in November.

The party announced on social media that they would take the opportunity to highlight “liberty-minded” candidates from other parties ahead of the primary.

There are also three Libertarians running for state legislative seats.

While there are only a couple contested third-party primaries, voters who choose Green Party or Libertarian ballots will be also be able to vote for judicial races, nonpartisan local offices and local ballot measures.

In recent Montana elections, both the Libertarians and the Greens have faced accusations that they would be “spoilers” – taking votes away from Republicans and Democrats, respectively. In addition, leaders of the third parties have accused some of the people running under their party labels of not being authentic supporters.

Daoud, a Kalispell city councilmember and the chair of the Montana Libertarian Party, told MTN Hayes and Noble were both new to the party, but he had spoken to them and found them to be “liberty-minded.” He said Leib was saying all the right things for Libertarian principles, and the other candidates have long records of involvement with the party.

Steve Kelly, an environmental activist and former Green Party candidate, is now the state party’s ballot access coordinator. He told MTN earlier this month he had not spoken to Barb yet, and that he had not been involved with the party when Barb ran in 2020. He said Downey was a newcomer, but he seemed credible in his interest in Green Party principles.

Third-party candidates could also get a lot of attention in the upcoming presidential race. Because of their ballot access, the Libertarians and Greens will have presidential candidates on Montana’s ballot in November. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent presidential campaign told MTN in March they had started gathering petition signatures to qualify him for the ballot.

The organization No Labels, which considered running a centrist presidential ticket, collected enough signatures to get on the Montana ballot, but decided last month not to move forward with a presidential run.