Does state violate Constitution in its candidate rules?

Print Article

Another election year is upon us, and you may have been reading stories about the various candidates who have filed for a chance to hold public office in Montana.

I intended to be one of those candidates, having filed for the Legislature in House District 15, the district I reside in. The Montana secretary of state would not accept my application.

I am qualified to be a candidate for the Legislature, as I understand the Montana Constitution, and to have my name printed on the ballot without a “declaration” of “party” or “independent.” Statutes passed by the legislature disallow that. Do those statutes have constitutional sanction?

Article IV, Section 4, of the Montana Constitution is titled Eligibility for Public Office and says “Any qualified elector is eligible to any public office except as otherwise provided in this constitution.” “…except as otherwise provided in this constitution” is constitutional language used in contrast to “provided by law” and specifically disallows legislation on the matter addressed.

I am a “qualified elector” and I meet the “otherwise provided” qualifications for the Legislature expressed in Article V, Sec. 4, requiring I “be a resident of the state for at least one year next preceding the general election…“ and “For six months next preceding the general election,…” I “…shall be a resident of the county if it contains one or more districts or of the district if it contains all or parts of more than one county.”

Moreover, in Article III, Section 3, the Montana Constitution says “No other oath, declaration, or test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust” apart from the constitutional oath.

What then, is the basis for statutes requiring that candidates “declare” the designation of a “qualified party” or “independent” to be eligible to have their name printed on the general election ballot? The assumed authority is the second sentence in Article IV, Section 4: “The legislature may provide additional qualifications but no person convicted of a felony shall be eligible to hold office until his final discharge from state supervision.”

To interpret this sentence in such a fashion as the legislature evidently has creates an inexplicable contradiction with the first sentence of the section. Proper exegesis of the text requires avoidance of contradictions. It is illogical to express “except as otherwise provided in this constitution” in one sentence and then contradict that statement in the next with “the legislature may provide additional qualifications” to be “eligible to any public office.” To maintain consistency to the text, the reference has to be to the term “qualified elector,” which “requirements” are indeed authorized to be “provided by law” in Article IV, Section 2, and evidently reiterated in the second sentence of Article IV, Section 4.

In short, a logical reading of the Montana Constitution indicates that the Legislature can determine who is a “qualified elector” “by law” but it cannot prevent “any qualified elector” from being “eligible to any public office.”

The Legislature does not require “qualified electors” (voters) to “declare” party affiliation or “independent.” How then can it require such from those who would become candidates without violating Article IV, Section 4? Indeed, how is it that private political parties can be “qualified” for the ballot when the Constitution establishes qualifications for individuals only? And how is it that these private “qualified parties” have publicly funded elections for the purpose of nominating which of their candidates will represent them in the general election?

Do we have “free and open elections” as required by Article II, Section 13, of the Montana Constitution when our “choice” of candidates is largely determined by private “qualified” political parties?

Jore is a former legislator from Ronan. He served four terms in the Montana House.

Print Article

Read More Letters to the Editor

More election letters: April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Vote to stop bottling plant It is clear that the editorial board of this paper has lost sight of the fact that we are a nation of laws and not of men. To suggest that an elected official or official...


Read More

Letters published on April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake What if shoe were on the other foot? It is time for a practical lesson on tribalism over patriotism in U.S. politics today. Imagine this scenario: Hillary Clinton is president. It’s learned that sh...


Read More

More opinions on ballot initiative and elections

April 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Realtors come out against Egan Slough ballot initiative Vote NO on Ballot Initiative 17-01. Here’s why: You wouldn’t sign your name to a blank contract would you? Or sell a piece of land without k...


Read More

The whole dam thing

April 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Our lands and homes were taken from us and destroyed. Our way of life was stolen and drowned. It was a disaster for life along the old Kootenai River and neighboring mountainsides. More doom could ...


Read More

Contact Us

News: (406) 837-5131
Advertising: 406-758-4410
Bigfork Eagle
c/o Daily Inter Lake
PO Box 7610
Kalispell, MT 59904

©2018 Bigfork Eagle Terms of Use Privacy Policy