On July 17, New Approach Montana reported that county clerks had accepted 52,315 signatures from the 80,000 raw signatures submitted for its constitutional amendment initiative (CI-118) and 35,458 signatures from the 52,000 signatures submitted for its initiated state statute (I-190). A total of 50,936 signatures and 25,468 signatures, respectively, were required to qualify for the ballot.
Together, the initiatives would legalize and tax marijuana. New Approach’s CI-118 would amend the state constitution to allow for the legislature or a citizen initiative to establish minimum legal ages for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana. I-190 would legalize marijuana for individuals over the age of 21 and tax the sale of non-medical marijuana at a rate of 20 percent. CI-118 must be approved in order for I-190 to be enacted.
Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Every single legislative district submitted signatures for this drive, all 56 counties, every little small town, people contributed signatures to this in Montana. We think that shows a huge level of support out here, and we’re excited going forward.”
In April, the campaign filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that it had violated the right to petition the government by prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson ruled against the petitioners arguing that the state’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
On May 7, 2020, the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R) issued a declaratory order enabling campaigns to circulate petitions online so that supporters could print, sign, and return them to a county elections office without notarization. Prior to the order, supporters had to take the signed petition to a notary for verification. On the same day, New Approach Montana announced that it would be carrying out a traditional signature gathering campaign with added precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, such as having circulators wear masks and using single-use pens.
In Montana, the deadline to gather signatures and submit them to county clerks for verification was June 19. The county election authorities had until July 17 to submit accepted signatures to the Montana Secretary of State’s office for a final tabulation before the ballot measures are certified.
New Approach Montana was the only campaign to submit a sufficient number of signatures and meet the state’s distribution requirement. The distribution requirement for initiated state statutes is 5 percent of qualified voters in one-third (34) of the 100 state legislative districts. For initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is 10 percent of qualified voters in two-fifths (40) of the 100 state legislative districts.
Montana Cares, the sponsor of I-187, the Renewable Energy Initiative, also filed signatures with county clerks. The campaign reported on July 17 that it did not meet the signature and distribution requirements. The initiative would have required investor-owned electric utilities to acquire 80% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2035. The campaign filed two similar initiatives in 2016 and 2018 that also did not make the ballot.
Fourteen petitions targeting the 2020 ballot were filed with the Montana Secretary of State, and five were cleared for signature gathering.
The state legislature referred one state statute and two constitutional amendments to the November ballot. LR-130, would remove local governments’ power to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings. C-46 and C-47 would amend constitutional language regarding initiative signature distribution requirements to match existing practices.
From 1996 through 2018, an average of between four and five measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Montana, 62% of which were approved.