Stories about Montana

Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission enacts new congressional map

On Nov. 12, the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission enacted a new congressional map following the 2020 redistricting cycle. The commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the map and to transmit it to the Montana Secretary of State. Both Republican commissioners and Maylinn Smith, the nonpartisan tiebreaker, voted in favor of the map, and the two Democratic commissioners voted against the map.

A version of the congressional map enacted by the commission had previously been approved on Nov. 4. The map that received final approval on Nov. 12 made a minor change in Pondera County, allocating a smaller portion of it to the Western district.

Following the approval of the congressional map, Democratic Commissioner Kendra Miller said: “Neither district on this plan is seriously competitive. The two districts together don’t adequately represent the overall makeup of our state. And for that reason, this plan has been drawn to unduly favor one political party.” Republican Commissioner Jeff Essmann said: “In terms of the Western district, you know, as it’s drawn, this is not, whether it is represented in the future by a Democrat or Republican, it will never be considered a safe seat in the 10 years going forward that would permit any candidate to not listen to the voters of that district.”

Following the 2020 census, population increases in Montana gave the state two congressional districts. Previously, the state had one at-large congressional district. The next deadline ahead of the commission will be preparing a legislative redistricting plan by Jan. 14, 2022, the 10th day of the upcoming regular legislative session.

Recall election for Montana sewer district to be held Aug. 24

A recall election seeking to remove two of the five board members for the Sanders County Sewer District in Montana is being held on Aug. 24. Board President Sunny Chase and board member Rick McCollum are on the ballot.

The recall effort was started by a group of residents who opposed putting a sewer system in Paradise, Montana. The board voted in favor of the sewer project in May 2020. The town received a $3.5 million grant to help cover the cost of the project and took out a loan of $770,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to cover the rest of the cost. 

In reaction to the recall effort, Chase said the board had gone through the process of putting in a sewer system in good faith. She said she saw it as a necessity for the town.

To get the recall on the ballot, supporters had to submit signatures equal to 15% of registered voters in the town of Paradise. The petitions were submitted with 43 signatures, which was over the threshold. The Sanders County Clerk and Recorder’s Office verified the signatures, allowing the recall election to be scheduled.

In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 164 recall efforts against 262 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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Petitions rejected in recall effort against Montana mayor

Two recall petitions filed in Montana against Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey this month were rejected by the office of the Ravalli County Clerk over issues with how the petitions were filed. State statutes also limit new recall efforts from moving forward until petitioners reimburse expenses from an earlier recall election against the same official. Dewey retained his position following a recall vote on Nov. 3.

The recall efforts were organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh, who accused Dewey of violating his oath of office by signing contracts on behalf of the town without approval from the Stevensville Town Council. The first petition was filed in response to a three-year contract with MySidewalk, Inc. costing $23,000 per year. The second petition was over a three-year contract with Billing Document Services, Inc. for an unspecified dollar amount.

Rodabaugh led the 2020 recall effort against Dewey over a $79,800 contract signed with First Call Computer Solutions. Dewey survived the recall election with 52% of voters casting ballots against removing him from office.

Recall organizers are given 90 days to collect valid signatures equaling 20% of registered voters in the city. Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg rejected the petitions because they weren’t filed with a written statement including reasons for a recall election. Petitioners are also required to swear before a person authorized to administer oaths that the written statements are true. Recalls cannot be filed against officials who were the subject of a recall election within two years prior to and during the official’s term of office unless petitioners reimburse the cost of the earlier recall election.

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Montana governor signs bill adding restrictions to the initiative process

On May 14, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed House Bill 651 into law. Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill along party lines in the last week of April. All Republicans but one were in favor and all Democrats were opposed. 

House Bill 651 changes the laws governing the initiative process in Montana

• to require the employees of paid signature gatherers to register with the state and pay a fee;

• to require the relevant legislative committee or the legislative council to review and vote whether to support or oppose adding any proposed initiative to the ballot and to require the results of that vote to be published on the initiative petition during circulation;

• to require the attorney general to determine whether a proposed initiative would “cause significant material harm to one or more business interests in Montana” and to require a statement on petition sheets if the attorney general finds that it would; and

• to define appropriations, which the state constitution prohibits initiatives from making, to include directly or indirectly creating a financial obligation or expanding the eligibility for a government program.

Legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states in 2021.

As of May 14, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 197 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 39 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 21 had been approved, and 20 had been defeated or had died.

Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement and distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, pay-per-signature bans, residency requirements and other circulator restrictions, fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Montana State Legislature sends ballot measure to change the state supreme court election process to 2022 ballot

Voters will decide in 2022 on a measure to change the election of state supreme court justices in Montana from nonpartisan statewide elections to by-district elections. The measure would not remove any sitting state supreme court justice. Associate justices would be assigned district numbers according to their seat number, and the chief justice would be assigned the seventh district. Associate justices could seek re-election in the district assigned to them or resign from their current district to file to run in another district under the proposed change to state law. The Montana State Legislature would be required to review the districts after the decennial census to ensure the districts contain approximately the same number of residents without dividing counties. The change would take effect after the 2024 general election.

In Montana, a simple majority is required in both chambers of the state legislature to place a legislatively referred state statute on the ballot.

This measure was introduced as House Bill 325 (HB 325) on February 4, 2021, by Rep. Barry Usher (R). The Montana House of Representatives approved HB 325 in a vote of 63-36 with one absent on February 19. It was introduced in the Montana State Senate on February 20, 2021. The Senate passed the measure with amendments on April 23 by a vote of 29-21. The House concurred on April 26 by a vote of 65-34 with one absent. The votes were largely along party lines with four Republican legislators joining the Democratic minority.

Currently, Montana Supreme Court justices serve eight-year terms following a statewide nonpartisan election. In the case of a mid-term vacancy, the governor may appoint an interim justice. If the governor does not select a nominee in time, the chief justice must make the appointment. The appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. If the Senate is not in session, the recess appointee serves until the next session. Once confirmed by the Senate, the judge holds office until the next general election.  Any incumbent judge who is running unopposed in a general election is subject to a retention election.

As of January 2021, four sitting judges were elected in nonpartisan elections, two judges were appointed by a Democratic governor, and one judge was appointed by a Republican governor.

Rep. Barry Usher (R), the sponsor of the measure, said that the change would mean that voters are better represented in the supreme court.

The 2022 measure is similar to a ballot measure that was removed from the ballot prior to the June 2012 primary election. Senate Bill 268 (SB 268), also known as LR-119, was placed on the ballot by the state legislature in largely partisan votes. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 30-20, and the House approved the bill by a vote of 59-40 with one absent. 

A group of voters filed a lawsuit against the measure arguing that the measure deprived Montana voters of the right to vote for all state supreme court justices. District Court Judge James Reynolds ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and removed the measure from the ballot. Judge Reynolds said that the measure, which required supreme court candidates to live inside proposed regional districts, would contradict the state constitution. The ruling was upheld in the state supreme court in a 6-1 ruling. The 2022 measure would not require candidates for the supreme court to live in the same district they wish to represent.

The ballot measure is the third to be sent to the 2022 ballot in Montana. Voters will also be deciding on a constitutional amendment that would require a search warrant to access electronic data or electronic communications and a state statute that requires medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an attempted abortion by classifying them as a “legal person” with “the right to appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment.”

Between 1996 and 2020, about 64.6% (42 of 65) of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 35.4% (23 of 65) were defeated.

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New apportionment data released – six states gain congressional seats, seven states lose seats

On April 26, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau released it post-2020 census apportionment counts. Six states—Texas (two seats), Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon—gained seats. Seven states—California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—each lost a seat.

Of the six states that gained congressional seats, three are Republican trifectas (Texas, Florida, and Montana), meaning Republicans control the governorship and majorities in both state legislative chambers in each. Two (Colorado and Oregon) are Democratic trifectas, and one (North Carolina) is a divided government.

Of the seven states that lost congressional seats, three (California, Illinois, and New York) are Democratic trifectas, two (Ohio and West Virginia) are Republican trifectas, and two (Michigan and Pennsylvania) are divided governments.

What is apportionment, and how does it work? Every ten years, the nation conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. The data gleaned from the census determines congressional apportionment. Apportionment is the process by which the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allotted to the states on the basis of population, as required under Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution. A state can gain seats in the House if its population grows – or lose seats if its population decreases – relative to populations in other states.

After the first census (1790), the 105 members of U.S. House represented about 34,000 residents each. Now, the 435 members of the House will represent an average of 761,169 residents each.

The 2020 census: According to the 2020 census, the resident population of the United States, as of April 1, 2020, was 331,449,281, representing a 7.4 percent increase over the 2010 population. California remained the most populous state with 39,538,223 residents. The population of Texas, the only state to gain multiple congressional seats from apportionment, grew by nearly 4 million residents between 2010 and 2020, reaching 29,145,505. Utah was the fastest-growing state: its population increased by 18.4 percent between 2010 and 2020, reaching 3,271,616.

The census is a complex undertaking. First, the Census Bureau collects data. This involves making a list of every residence (including houses, apartments, dorms, etc.) in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories; asking members of each household in the country to complete the census survey; and following up with those households that did not submit surveys. The Census Bureau then must process the data. This involves making a final list of residential addresses, cross-checking for duplicate responses, and processing write-in responses. The Census Bureau also uses imputation, a statistical method applied “in rare instances” that enables the Census Bureau “to fill in missing information using what we already know about an address and its nearest, similar neighbor.” Typically, upon final processing of the data, the Census Bureau delivers state population and apportionment counts by December 31 in the year of the census. Detailed redistricting data follows by April 1 of the next year.

On November 19, 2020, Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies [had] been discovered.” Dillingham said that he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” On January 27, 2021, Kathleen Styles, a Census Bureau official, announced that the final apportionment report would be delivered by April 30, 2021.

What comes next: The Census Bureau has not yet delivered redistricting data to the states. Upon announcing the 2020 apportionment counts, Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said, “Our work doesn’t stop here. Now that the apportionment counts are delivered, we will begin the additional activities needed to create and deliver the redistricting data that were previously delayed due to COVID-19.” The Census Bureau expects to deliver the raw data to the states by August 16. The “full redistricting data with toolkits for ease of us” will be delivered by September 30.

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Montana voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to require a search warrant to access electronic data in 2022

On April 22, the Montana State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would require a search warrant to access electronic data or electronic communications. The amendment would also state that electronic data and electronic communications would be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Montana State Senate and the Montana House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 203 (SB 203) was introduced on February 9, 2021, by Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R). The state Senate approved the bill on February 23, 2021, in a vote of 50 to 0. On April 22, the state House approved the bill in a vote of 76-23 with one absent. 

Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R) said, “Senate Bill 203 is about updating Montana’s Constitution to reflect life in the 21st Century and make it explicitly clear that our digital information is protected from unreasonable government searches and seizures. Today, so much of our private lives—financial information, communication with family and friends, medical information, and much, much more—is contained on and transferred electronically among many devices and computer systems.”

The amendment is similar to a 2020 Michigan ballot measure that was approved by voters with 88.75% of the vote. Missouri voters also approved a similar ballot measure in 2014 with 74.75% of the vote.

In 2022, Montana voters will also be voting on a law referred to the ballot by the state legislature that would require medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an attempted abortion. Healthcare providers that violate the requirement would be guilty of a felony with a maximum sentence of a $50,000 fine and/or 20 years in prison under the measure.

Between 1996 and 2020, about 64.6% (42 of 65) of the total number of measures that appeared on Montana ballots were approved, and about 35.4% (23 of 65) were defeated.

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Montana legislature sends law to require medical care for infants born alive after an attempted abortion to 2022 ballot

The Montana State Legislature put a measure on the November 2022 ballot that would require medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an attempted abortion by classifying them as a “legal person” with “the right to appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment.” The healthcare provider that violates this requirement by not providing care could be convicted of a felony with a maximum sentence of a $50,000 fine and/or 20 years in prison under the measure. The law would take effect on January 1, 2023.

In Montana, a simple majority is required in both chambers of the state legislature to place a proposed change to statute on the ballot. The governor’s signature is not required for legislatively referred state statutes.

The measure was introduced as House Bill 167 (HB 167) on January 14, 2021, in the Montana House of Representatives. On January 26, 2021, the state House passed the measure in a vote of 68-32. All 67 Republicans voted in favor of it, and all but one Democrat, Rep. Dave Fern, voted against it. It was sent to the Montana State Senate on January 26. On February 26, the state Senate passed an amended version in a vote of 30-20. The vote was largely along party lines, except for Senator Jeffrey Welborn, who was the sole Republican to vote against the measure. On April 22, the state House concurred with the amended version in a vote of 66-34. The vote was also along party lines, except for Rep. Edward Buttrey, who was the sole Republican to vote against the measure.

Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway, the sponsor of the bill, said, “I stand today as a witness that this practice of infants dying because they are not wanted or not planned is an abomination in God’s eyes, and I will continue to fight for the most invulnerable.”

Representative Kathy Kelker (D), who voted against the bill, said, “This one size fits all legislated standard of care not only interferes with medical practice, but denies physicians the ability to provide care that is necessary, compassionate, and appropriate to an individual woman’s circumstances.”

The measure is the third ballot measure related to abortion sent to 2022 ballots. Voters in Kentucky and Kansas will be deciding on constitutional amendments to add language to their respective state constitutions to state that nothing in the constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion.

In 2022, Montana voters will also be voting on a constitutional amendment to require a search warrant to access electronic data or electronic communications.

Between 1996 and 2020, about 64.6% (42 of 65) of the total number of measures that appeared on Montana ballots were approved, and about 35.4% (23 of 65) were defeated.

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Four states have ended their statewide mask requirements

New Jersey became the first state to implement a statewide mask order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 10, 2020. Seven other states implemented mask orders later in April 2020 and, in total, 39 states have issued statewide mask requirements at some point during the pandemic.

In recent weeks, states have begun to repeal mask requirements or allow them to expire. Today, thirty-five states have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 12 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced he is letting the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement on July 15, 2020. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) lifted her state’s mask order on Feb. 7. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17.

The Wisconsin State Assembly also voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency on Feb. 4. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. Republican legislative leadership is challenging the mandate in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus emergency order on Jan. 26. 

Mississippi became the first state to lift a statewide mask requirement on Sept. 30, 2020, followed by North Dakota on Jan. 18, 2021. Montana is the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Iowa was the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. All four states that have lifted statewide face covering requirements have Republican governors.

Newly elected Montana state executives take office; state becomes Republican trifecta and triplex

On January 4, Governor Greg Gianforte (R), Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras (R), Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen (R), and Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) took oaths of office in Montana. Each won election in the general election on November 3, 2020.

Gianforte’s victory returned control of the governorship to Republicans (from previous Democratic governor Steve Bullock), who also held onto control of the secretary of state and attorney general offices. This gives Republicans both trifecta and triplex control in the state. A trifecta occurs when one party controls the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. A triplex occurs when one party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, and attorney general.

Across the country, there are currently 23 Republican trifectas and 15 Democratic trifectas. There are 20 Republican triplexes and 17 Democratic triplexes.

In 31 states, the same political party has both a trifecta and a triplex. Republicans hold such positions in 19 states, while Democrats hold it in 12. Of the 19 states without both a trifecta and a triplex of the same party, seven have only a trifecta, six have only a triplex, and six have neither.