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Could the special congressional election give Montana’s Green Party a foot in the door?

By Indy Staff

As the Montana Green Party prepared to convene in early March for its first convention in years, party coordinator Danielle Breck figured to be planning for the long term. She certainly didn’t expect to jump into the fray this spring for the election to fill Ryan Zinke’s vacant congressional seat. But then she got a call from a lawyer in Atlanta.

Breck says civil rights litigator Bryan Sells offered to represent third-party candidates in Montana in a lawsuit over the state’s handling of ballot access in the upcoming special election. The complaint? That Gov. Steve Bullock’s scheduling allowed just six days for minor political parties to gather the roughly 14,000 signatures that state law requires to put a candidate on the ballot. That hardly gave the Green Party, which counted 13 voting members at its March 4 convention, much time to get its candidate, Danielle Breck’s husband, Thomas Breck, on the ballot.

“It’s not exactly fair,” Danielle Breck says.

The Brecks are now part of a lawsuit seeking to allow third parties the right to run in the May 25 election without meeting the signature requirement. (Danielle Breck says Sells is representing them pro bono.) Thomas Breck and Bozeman-based Independent Steve Kelly are named as plaintiffs.

The case is the latest wrench to be thrown into an already screwy election. The Montana Libertarian Party, which automatically qualifies for the ballot based on past election performance, has already scuffled with the secretary of state’s office over the deadline for nominating its candidate, Mark Wicks. Meanwhile, the Montana Legislature is still engaged in a partisan showdown over whether to allow voting by mail in the special election.

Now enter the Greens, fielding a candidate for statewide office for the first time since the 2004 gubernatorial election. The Green Party will present its case before a federal judge in Great Falls on April 4, and Breck says Montana’s 56 counties have until April 9 to print ballots. Most counties already have printed theirs. Reprinting them to include Breck and Kelly would cost those counties thousands of dollars.

That’s not Breck’s concern. She and her fellow Greens are busy waging a battle for equal access. That battle that may not be costing them anything, but it could rack up quite a tab for the rest of us.

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