- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request to delay the printing and mailing of ballots for Montana’s special congressional election for three minor party and independent candidates who are suing to be in the race.

The request by Thomas Breck of the Green Party and independents Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell was made after U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said he would not unilaterally add them to the ballot in the May 25 election.

The three men appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked Morris to prevent state election officials from printing and mailing ballots to military and overseas voters while the case is pending.

Morris said in his order that he would halt the lawsuit in his court until the appeal is resolved, but he won’t prevent the election from proceeding because the three men haven’t shown that they are likely to win their case.

Citing a similar ballot-access case in Illinois, Morris said it isn’t the court’s job to help any particular candidate to get on the ballot, but to make sure the state “does not erect insurmountable barriers to access.”

Morris‘ order comes a day after the deadline for state election officials to mail out the overseas ballots. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton spokeswoman Morgan Williams confirmed about 4,900 ballots were mailed on Monday.

Republican Greg Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks are the three candidates now on the ballot for the special election to serve the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s term. Zinke resigned March 1 to become Interior secretary.

Breck, Kelly and Campbell had sued over the state’s requirement that they gather 14,268 signatures each to qualify for the ballot, arguing the secretary of state’s office only posted the required forms in January and the special election wasn’t called until March 1. The deadline to turn in signatures was March 6.

Morris agreed with them and he lowered the signature requirement to 400, estimating that a diligent candidate could collect that many signatures between March 1 and March 6.

But none of the three had gathered even the lower number, meaning they were still left off the ballot.

They argue in their appeal that Morris‘ solution was inadequate, and that they want extra time to gather signatures or otherwise demonstrate they have enough support to merit being on the ballot.

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