In a victory for the Libertarian Party, the Montana Supreme Court ruled on March 25 that legislative referendum LR 127, which would have established top-two primary elections in the state, will not be placed on the general election ballot this November.
Top-two measures allow only the top two vote-getters in primary elections to be on the general election ballot. This severely reduces the chance of a third party candidate surviving the primary election.
“Republicans had placed LR 127 on the ballot in an effort to eliminate Libertarians from the general election,” said Mike Fellows, chair of the Montana Libertarian Party. “Montana voters want their views to be heard, and LR 127 would limit those views.”
The Billings Gazette called the Libertarian Party “formidable” and notes that it “has begun to pull voters away from the GOP base.”
If Republicans deliberately made LR 127’s title confusing to placate opposition, their efforts backfired.
The court ruled the title was too long and complicated, noting “The title of LR-127 lists approximately 100 separate statutes that would be amended and eleven that would be repealed … It would take most persons well versed in the law a substantial amount of time and study to understand the details and implications of these changes.”
“LR 127 was a confusing bill which many Republicans, who voted for it, couldn’t explain,” Fellows said. “Republicans took a clue from Nancy Pelosi in passing a bill that they needed to pass to understand.”
Top-two favors the most dominant party in a state. In numerous California top-two primary elections, two Democrats advanced to the general election with no Republican.
In Montana, Republicans control the legislature.
Attempts to enact top-two have met with mixed results. Measures have failed in Arizona, Oregon and twice in Montana but remain in effect in California, Washington and Louisiana.
“At some point the Democrats and Republicans will wake up to the fact that they are not only losing these top-two battles and creating ill will with voters, but also hurting themselves,” said Carla Howell, Political Director for the national Libertarian Party. “They are knocking themselves out of general elections and killing opportunities to build a farm team of candidates for higher office.”
Top-two is causing voter turnout to drop to ever-lower levels. Some of the original proponents of top-two now oppose it.