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Sec. of State: no change to candidate names on special election ballot

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BOZEMAN, Mont. - The Secretary of State's office is telling county elections officials they won't need to make any changes to the ballot for next month's special election, based on a court order filed this weekend.

The election is being held to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke, whom President Trump nominated to be his new Secretary of the Interior.

Only three candidates, Democrat Rob Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte, and Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks were able to meet the requirements to have their names printed on the special election ballot, but last month, three third-party candidates, Thomas Breck, Steve Kelly, and Doug Campbell, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State's office to have their names added.

The trio said they didn't have enough time to collect the required 14,268 signatures before the filing deadline, an argument the court sides with in Saturday's order, ruling that "Montana's signature requirement for minor and independent party candidates to be placed on the ballot represents an unconstitutional barrier to ballot access."

Breck says getting that many signatures is hard in the amount of time given before the special election.

"The rules had expectations set that are completely unreasonable and completely burdensome," Breck said.

The court, however, does find that 400 signatures is not an unreasonable requirement, based on the amount of time the candidates had before the deadline, and it notes that none of the candidates gathered even that number of signatures.

"Breck, Kelly, and Campbell conceded that they failed to pursue any meaningful signature gathering effort. They likewise have failed to present other evidence that would help establish a modicum of support for the appearance on the ballot. They have failed to persuade the Court to take the unusual step of ordering the State to place their names on the ballot," the court order reads.

In a press release from the Office of Secretary of State's office,Secretary of State Corey Stapleton weighed in on the ruling.

"I'm encouraged that we have some clarity for the upcoming special election," said Stapleton, "as our clerks are busy preparing ballots and lining up election judges for polling places. With just six weeks to go, it's important that we preserve the Montana way of holding elections--and that means giving voters the option to vote by mail or at the polls, and keeping a high level of integrity with high voter turnout. At this point, we're proceeding with the understanding that we have three candidates on the ballot for the U.S. Congressional election that will be held on Thursday, May 25th."

According to an email sent by the Secretary of State's office to a local election official that was forwarded to NBC Montana, this means there will be no changes needed to the candidate names on the special election ballot.

Campbell says he still sees the judge's order as a victory.

"Even if no additional candidates are on this year's ballot; this elections ballot that the precedence set by this ruling will be a benefit for Montana," Campbell said.

To read the entire court order, click here. Check back for updates.

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