Election Day

A voter drops off her ballot at the Gallatin County Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.

Gallatin County will spend tens of thousands of dollars if a federal lawsuit forces two candidates to be added to the ballot for the upcoming special election.

Montana voters will decide on May 25 who will replace Ryan Zinke, who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives this month to become the U.S. secretary of the interior.

Three candidates have already been certified for the election. But two more, perennial candidate Steve Kelly of Bozeman and Green Party nominee Thomas Breck of Missoula, filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday that asks the court to put their names on the ballot.

Kelly and Breck say the state’s rules about signature gathering for minor political party candidates are unconstitutional in the case of this special election.

Gallatin County Clerk & Recorder Charlotte Mills said Thursday that she certified the county’s ballots and sent them to the printer on March 16. She expects to receive them by April 4. The printing job cost the county $35,000.

“If the court agrees with (Kelly and Breck), this unplanned, un-budgeted election is going to get even more expensive,” said Mills.

How much? About $40,000, she said, because they’d have to shred the old ballots and reprint them again and pay for rush delivery from the out-of-state vendor.

A similar situation arose last fall when Mike Fellows, the Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. House, died in a car crash.

But not every county has already begun printing.

Rebecca Connors, Missoula County’s election administrator, told the Chronicle that she prints ballots locally and has a few more days before beginning.

“We’re printing next Tuesday,” she said.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, the state’s chief election administrator and defendant in the ballot access complaint, has yet to issue any guidance to counties on the pending lawsuit.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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