MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer BUTTE
Two independent candidates have asked a judge to place them on the November ballot in the U.S. Senate race featuring incumbent Max Baucus. U. S. District Judge Sam Haddon said Friday, Sept. 19, that rulings in both cases could come as early as next week. Steve Kelly of Bozeman argued during Friday's hearing that the rules requiring such candidates to gather roughly 10,000 signatures early in the year are burdensome and unconstitutional. In a separate case, Patty Lovaas of Missoula, who lost a bid for the Republican nomination in the June primary, is fighting a rule banning primary losers from getting on the ballot as independents. State attorneys argued the law in both cases is clear and the rules are fair. An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union represented Kelly during Friday's hearing and asked the judge to force the state to put Kelly on the ballot. The attorney, Bryan Sells, said minor party candidates need to gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes the previous winner of that office received in the prior election. A new state law also increased the filing fee and moved the deadline from June to March. During his testimony, Kelly said the earlier deadline made it harder to comply with the rules because cold weather makes it difficult to get people to stop outside and sign petitions, and the opportunity to stand at polling places in the June primary no longer exists. "I don't think it's possible for me to get on the ballot with the requirements as they stand," Kelly said. Kelly has run in several statewide races over the years, and previously qualified as an independent candidate in 1994. Major party candidates automatically qualify under state law based on past performance in elections and do not need to gather signatures, according to the secretary of state's office. State attorneys said Kelly did not try to comply with the rules, and they submitted to the court copies of a blog post from early in the year in which Kelly said he had no plans to run. Kelly said the post was "banter" and intended to run. The state also noted that many of the ballots for the November election have been printed, meaning counties would have to order new ones if the judge ordered the candidates on the ballot. In the Kelly case, the ACLU attorney was barred from submitting testimony from an expert witness after the judge said he did not follow court procedure. "If you don't know how to try a lawsuit ... I suggest you find someone who can," Haddon told Sells. The ACLU lawyer persisted unsuccessfully, saying "I will not be intimidated by the bench." At the end of the hearing, when Sells sought to frame a closing argument, Haddon rejected the request and said the whole case had been brought forward in a "haphazard" manner. In the Lovaas case, Haddon said he would hold a hearing Sept. 26 if both sides can agree on the basic facts of the case. If not, Haddon said he would need to schedule an evidentiary hearing. Both Kelly and Lovaas want to get on the ballot in a race featuring Baucus, a heavily favored incumbent, and surprise Republican nominee Bob Kelleher, who has run for office several times as both a Democratic and Green Party candidate.