Court denies request for electronic signatures for marijuana ballot initiatives

A district court judge in Helena has denied a request to collect signatures electronically to put initiatives legalizing marijuana on the ballot.

In early April, New Approach Montana filed a lawsuit in Lewis and Clark County District Court asking to allow, for just the current election cycle, electronic signatures in support of their petition to put Constitutional Initiative 118 and Statutory Initiative 190 on the 2020 ballot.

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In a statement, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said, “The District Court’s order is a victory for the rule of law and Montana’s constitution. I am pleased with the ruling because it’s the court’s job is to interpret laws, not to write them or suspend them.”

CI-118 would amend the Montana Constitution to allow for the people by initiative or the legislature to establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming or possessing marijuana and I-190 would legalize the possession and use of limited amounts of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

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New Approach Montana argues in their complaint that its “neither ethical or permitted under the terms of the governor’s executive orders and directives for the sponsors of CI-118 and I-190 to obtain signatures in person from Montana electors in order to quality the initiatives for the 2020 ballot.”

In an April 30 decision, District Court Judge John Larson wrote that, “plaintiffs have failed to show that the statutes at issue in Title 13, chapter 27, Mont. Code Ann., infringe on plaintiff’s rights guaranteed by the Constitution under the present circumstances of this case. The state’s compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”

In his order, Larson wrote that the court was “not inclined to invade the role of the executive or legislative branches,” and the governor’s orders or directives didn’t specifically suspend ballot initiative petition signature gathering and that the court is not in a position to know the ability of county clerks in all 56 Montana counties to implement the changes New Approach Montana requested.

New Approach Montana had requested to use DocuSign as a platform to gather electronic petition signatures, but in the proceedings found no other known cases where DocuSign was used for voter signatures on state or local initiatives, according to Larson’s order.

“As such, the court is not inclined to address the novelty of using DocuSign and force the widespread application of the service across 56 county clerks officers and the Secretary of State,” Larson wrote.