- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An appeals court has denied a request by three minor party and independent candidates to place their names on the ballot for the special election to replace Ryan Zinke, who left Montana’s only U.S. House seat to become Interior secretary.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the emergency motion late Monday. Instead, the panel ordered the candidates and the Montana Secretary of State’s Office to file their arguments by mid-June, well after the election set for May 25.

Overseas ballots have already been mailed and other preparations are already underway for the election. Absentee ballots are scheduled to be mailed May 1.

“The secretary is encouraged that we have clarity for the upcoming election,” said Morgan Williams, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. “Our clerks are working hard to prepare ballots and set up polling places as we march forward toward this historic special election.”

The Green Party’s Thomas Breck and independents Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell sought an order either placing them on the ballot or giving them more time to collect the signatures they need to qualify as candidates.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris previously lowered the signature requirement from more than 14,000 to just 400, but he did not extend the March 6 deadline for candidates to turn in signatures and did not order the three candidates to be listed on the ballot, prompting the appeal.

The candidates’ attorney, Bryan Sells, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The three candidates on the ballot are Republican Greg Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks.

Gov. Steve Bullock has tried to revive a killed bill that would have allowed counties to conduct the special election exclusively by mail, but House Speaker Austin Knudsen has not scheduled a vote on the House floor.

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This story has been updated to correct that absentee ballots will be mailed on May 1, not April 28.

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