Attorney Matthew Monforton of Bozeman filed a federal lawsuit Monday, in District Court on behalf of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee. It names Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Ravalli County’s election administrator as defendants. Monforton is a State House candidate who successfully pushed the state Republican Party this spring to add support of closed primaries to its platform. Monforton said he filed the lawsuit with the 2016 elections in mind. He said he expects other county political committees to join it. McCullouch declined to comment, as did Ravalli County Elections Supervisor Regina Plettenberg. Ravalli County Republican Chairman Terry Nelson referred questions to Monforton.
In 2011, a Federal Judge ruled Idaho’s open primary system was unconstitutional. That prompted Idaho’s Legislature to pass a law closing its primary elections.
Monforton said the Idaho suit took nearly three years to litigate.
Montana has never had a closed primary, but Monforton’s suit will test the constitutional grounds.
“This involves the party’s First Amendment right to choose its own leaders and choose its own nominees,” said Monforton. “So that’s what gives the Federal Court jurisdiction.”