County attorney reviews candidates for November city ballot; determines Turoski’s name can be on ballot

Updated Aug. 27 regarding Greg Schoby’s name on the ballot.

The names of candidates to appear on the city ballot in November has changed again.

The Cascade County Attorney’s Office issued a legal opinion on July 23 stating that Paige Turoski’s name can appear on the ballot, after previously finding that her name could not because she hadn’t filed paperwork on time with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

That brings the total of certified eligible candidates to seven but still doesn’t prompt a primary, according to the county election office.

[View: Matrix on determining primaries from elections officials]

[Montana Code on primaries]

At the close of filing June 21, Turoski and Ken Cox had not filed the required paperwork with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, raising questions about their eligibility to appear on the ballot as candidates.

State law requires that candidates file with the COPP within five days of declaring themselves a candidate when they file at the county elections office.

Schoby drops out of City Commission race; no write-in candidates filed

Several candidates and readers asked The Electric about whether that deadline would keep candidates off the ballot and The Electric began asking that question of the county elections office in June, prompting them to ask the county attorney’s office, elections officials said.

Because they didn’t meet that requirement, the Cascade County attorney’s office ruled June 29 that their names would not appear on the ballot and they’d have to file as write-in candidates to run.

But, it turns out that rule is rarely enforced and a 2016 Montana Supreme Court decision held that even if a candidate filed late, their name can still appear on the ballot, but they may face a campaign finance violation if someone files a complaint against them.

City primary canceled since two candidates didn’t file paperwork on time

Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said that the law says a candidate’s name can’t appear on the ballot if they “fail” to file and has some specifics for school district and statewide elections, but not for municipal elections.

Mangan said that the law doesn’t give him much authority to enforce the 5-day filing rule other than through the complaint process.

“It’s not from a lack of effort,” he said, and that a bill to strengthen enforcement of those rules and timelines was proposed in the last legislative session, but failed.

Because the law states that a candidate may not appear on the ballot if they fail to file the required forms, the COPP office has historically waited five days from the close of any filing period and the next day sends information to the county elections office on who has or has not filed the required paperwork, Mangan said. His office also calls the candidates and reminds them to fill out their paperwork, but “it’s always been the responsibility of the candidate to file the paperwork.”

Filing closed for city election; officials working to certify candidates for ballot

In this case, on June 29, the COPP’s office sent a letter to Cascade County elections officials certifying all but Cox as candidates since they had filed the required forms, albeit late in the case of Turoski and Schoby.

Initially, the county elections office only looked at Turoski and Cox because they hadn’t filed by the close of filing on June 21, according to county election officials. Turoski filed hers on June 29 and the COPP certified her as an eligible candidate.

It turns out that Greg Schoby, who has since dropped out of the race, also filed his paperwork late on June 21, but before the end of the filing period so his name didn’t come up in discussions of eligibility.

Mayor’s race now contested; primary will be held for commission seats

“Despite presenting their declarations on the same date and being subject to the same registration timeline, why Candidate Schoby’s campaign practice laws violations were complained of to the COPP and Candidate Turoski’s were not is unknown at this time,” according to a July 23 decision by Carey Ann Haight, deputy county attorney.

Jeni Dodd filed a complaint with COPP on June 16 against Schoby regarding his late filing and Mangan found him in violation of the campaign finance laws in a June 29 decision. The matter is first referred to the Lewis and Clark County county attorney’s office for consideration of civil prosecution and if they waive that, it’s referred back to COPP, which can prosecute or impose a fine.

Schoby dropped out of the election in mid-July but the deadline to formally withdraw was June 21, so his name would have been on the primary ballot. His name will not appear on the November ballot, county elections officials told The Electric on Aug. 25.

After reading a report in The Electric that the county attorney’s office had ruled Turoski’s name couldn’t appear on the ballot, Mangan called the county attorney’s office on July 13 as a courtesy to point out that Schoby was in the same situation but had been allowed to appear on the ballot and to share the 2016 Montana Supreme Court decision on the 5-day filing rule that held, “we concur with the COPP’s observation that under § 13-37-126(1) MCA, it is the failure to file the requisite statements or reports that deprives a candidate of the right to appear on an official ballot, and that a delayed filing does not constitute a failure to file.”

Mangan said that Turoski also contacted his office about the issue and he told her it wasn’t their decision to keep her name off the ballot and recommended that she contact the county attorney’s office.

Mangan said he has advised county officials that Turoski’s name should appear on the ballot, but she may still be subject to a campaign finance violation should someone file a complaint against her.

As of now, the names to appear on the ballot for city commission are: Schoby, Joshua Copeland, Vanessa Hayden, Susan Wolff, Joe McKenney, Eric Hinebauch and Paige Turoski.

The candidates for mayor are Bob Kelly, incumbent, and Fred Burow.