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Montana officials say ballot delay could harm election

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By Matt Volz Associated Press

HELENA (AP) – Some Montana residents may not see their votes counted until after November’s elections if the state Supreme Court grants Republican Party chairman Jeff Essmann’s petition to delay the printing of ballots to remove a Libertarian candidate’s name, state officials said Monday.

Changing the ballots now to remove Roger Roots’ name from the ballot could cause counties to miss the deadline to mail ballots to Montana residents currently outside of the United States, Jorge Quintana, a lawyer for Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, said in his response filed with the high court.

It would also require changing the handicapped-accessible electronic voting system and the vote tabulating equipment for the more than 700 ballots statewide, said Lisa Kimmet, McCulloch’s elections deputy. And ballots would have to be reprinted because the candidates’ names in each race are rotated on different ballots so that each name appears at the top of the list an equal number of times.

Roots, who has neither collected nor spent any money in his campaign, is running for secretary of state against Republican Corey Stapleton and Democrat Monica Lindeen. Roots said the Republicans are trying to force him off the ticket because they believe he’ll take votes away from Stapleton.

“It goes to show you that they’re afraid of the Libertarian Party attracting voters from them,” Roots said. “They’re relying on these technicalities to try to remove these third parties from the ballot.”

Stapleton acknowledged that Libertarian candidates typically attract some Republican voters, but said his campaign is not focused on Roots and that he has done nothing to remove Roots from the ballot.

“I’ve never met him and I don’t know that it will have that much affect in this race whether he’s in it or not,” Stapleton said.

Previously, Essmann denied his petition against Roots was designed to give Stapleton an advantage over Lindeen.

The state Supreme Court, which ordered McCulloch and Motl to respond to Essmann’s claims, did not take immediate action on Monday.

“Petitioner’s request this close to federal and state deadlines to send ballots to military service members and overseas voters would put the integrity of the election in peril,” Quintana said in his filing.

Asked what would happen if the deadline was missed, McCulloch spokeswoman Emily Dean forwarded a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has authority over the federal deadline. The statement said states have been required to extend their deadlines and to count late ballots, even when they arrive after Election Day.

Fifty counties had sent their ballots to print as of last week, according to a sworn statement Kimmet. One, Jefferson County, has already printed its ballots.

Essmann says that Roots never filed a business disclosure statement and that he did not file the proper campaign finance statements. Under Montana law, that failure to file requires the candidate be removed from the ballot, he said.

Essmann is asking the Supreme Court for an order halting the printing of ballots and for an order removing Roots as a candidate.

Motl attorney Jamie McNaughton said Roots filed four months’ worth of campaign finance reports in August, before the ballot was certified. The filings came after their deadlines, but late filing is not grounds for removal from the ballot, she said in her brief to the court.

Motl said Roots filed his business disclosure statement in March, but that his staff misplaced it. Roots filed a replacement disclosure earlier this month.

“All of these financial disclosure requirements violate the First Amendment,” Roots said. “Having said that, I always comply with it, otherwise Libertarians wouldn’t get on the ballot.”

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