The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the state from placing on the November ballot a legislative referendum to change how the state’s primary elections work. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate in 2013 put Legislative Referendum 127 on the ballot. Some unions and another group went directly to the Supreme Court to ask that it be stripped from the ballot on legal grounds. In a 6-1 decision, the court majority ruled that the title of the referendum “does not comply with the plain meaning of the Legislature’s 100-word limit” in state law.
The title’s listing of approximately 100 separate laws — not the actual laws themselves, but their numbers in state law books, such as 13-1-1-1 — that would be amended by the referendum, along with 11 laws subject to repeal, increased the word count to far more than 100, the court said.
“The Legislature chose to place the 100-word limitation into the statute and must comply with its own law when referring a matter to the people for the vote,” Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote in the majority opinion. “Furthermore, the title of LR-127 is not a mere technical violation of the statute, but is substantially in excess of the 100 word limit imposed by the Legislature.”
The court also found the referendum’s title to be “complicated and confusing.”