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Judge rejects proposal for electronic signature gathering

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MISSOULA – A Montana judge on Thursday denied a request by a group seeking to gather signatures electronically to qualify two recreational marijuana issues for the November ballot amid coronavirus restrictions.

New Approach Montana failed to show that Gov. Steve Bullock’s emergency orders related to the coronavirus “specifically suspend ballot initiative petition gathering at this time,” District Judge John Larson said in his ruling.

New Approach Montana had petitioned the court to allow it to gather signatures electronically for a proposal to make the use of recreational marijuana legal and taxable. They also want to seek enough signatures for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to set a legal age for the use of recreational marijuana.

Larson said they can petition the governor’s office for relief, pursue legislative change in 2021 or otherwise satisfy “the governor’s present directives while seeking the signatures plaintiffs require in the remaining time allowed.”

Larson rejected a request to extend the signature gathering deadline from July 17 to Aug. 3, after the state argued that such a delay could lead to delays in certifying ballots.

“The state’s compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” Larson wrote.

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