Members of the Montana Republican Party will meet Saturday to decide whether to join a lawsuit seeking to close their primary elections to include only those who have registered with the GOP.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit were dealt somewhat of a blow Thursday when District Judge Brian Morris of Great Falls denied their request for a partial summary judgment or preliminary injunction that would have closed primaries while the case is being decided.
Morris said he couldn’t issue a summary judgment in part because the record contains “no evidence at this point that non-Republicans can or actually have voted” on the Republican ticket leading to the election of certain candidates.
Attorney and Rep. Matthew Monforton of Bozeman who filed the lawsuit in September said it’s true that they haven’t presented voter evidence but thinks the issue can be decided without it.
“He’s saying ‘I’m not going to resolve this without a trial,’” Monforton said of Morris. “I’m not surprised.”
Republican central committees from Ravalli, Gallatin, Sanders, Dawson and Stillwater counties are named in the lawsuit against Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and county election officials over open primary election laws. Five additional committees from Flathead, Richland, Carbon, Madison and Big Horn counties joined the lawsuit earlier this month.
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to strike down as unconstitutional Montana laws that currently allow any registered voter to participate in any party primary.
State Republicans supported the idea at their convention earlier this year, but party chairman Will Deschamps said no decision would be made on the issue until after the November elections.
Monforton filed the lawsuit in September saying the counties didn’t want to wait for the state party to act. A similar effort to close GOP primaries has been successful in Idaho.
“Tomorrow is an important opportunity for the state party to show its support for the rank and file Republicans who want constitutional primaries,” Monforton said.
The Saturday meeting of the Republican State Central Committee is open to the public and will take place at 10 a.m. at Jorgenson’s Inn and Suites in Helena.
GOP Party spokesman Chris Shipp says the party can decide to join the counties’ lawsuit, file its own or reject the idea altogether.
Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said the state has always had open primaries and she supports the current law.
“The trouble with the closed primary idea is that it closes access,” she said previously.