Montana Supreme Court to Decide Voting Rights Case

In the United States of America today, it is illegal to allow only wealthy property owners to vote.  But in 2011, the Republican Flathead County Commissioners did the next best thing, and the case is going to the Montana Supreme Court on April 11.

Flathead County planning surveyFlathead County Commissioners sent out a survey to the ‘doughnut’ residents (people who live in a ring around the outer edge of the city of Whitefish) asking who they prefer to manage planning and zoning, the county or city of Whitefish.  Instead of mailing surveys to the registered voters in the area in question, they sent the surveys only to corporations and property owners. If you resided in the area, but didn’t make enough to own property, well, you weren’t allowed to voice your opinion.

Over at the Informed Whitefish forum, word is that some sixty surveys went to a single Whitefish address (one for each parcel of land the individual owns in the area) while others expressed outrage that many of the surveys were mailed to out-of-area addresses – including Texas, California, Canada, Switzerland and England.

In fact, some say most of the surveys that the County mailed went to owners who do not live in Whitefish: Forty percent of the survey votes were actually mailed out of Montana.  Flathead County surveys our Canadian neighbors to the north 300 times.  Texas gets 70 votes, Missoula 60, and California got nearly 160 surveys.

On Friday April 11 at 9:30am, the full Montana Supreme Court will hear and decide the case of the Interlocal Agreement Referendum.  The hearing will be held in the George Dennison Theater on the University of Montana campus in Missoula.

Don’t confuse this as a hearing for the ‘doughnut.’ This is about voting rights. The fact that our Supreme Court is hearing this case means they understand the consequences, importance and impact it will have on all of Montana not just Whitefish and Flathead County.

This will be a major media event, and you can tell by the large forum the hearing will be held in that a lot of people are expected to show up.  If you don’t live in Missoula, this is an event worth driving a couple of hours to see.  Don’t let the angry TEA Party ralliers and corporate astroturf groups like Balyeat’s/Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity take up all the seats of concerned Montanan citizens worried about our voting rights.

It’s hard to overstate how important these county races are.  What’s going on in Ravalli, Lincoln, and Flathead could happen next to any of our counties.

If Flathead gets to ignore the votes of renters, will Commissioners in Sweetgrass or  Stillwater decide they can throw out any surveys from women and people of color?  It’s actually hard to imaging the kind of bad ideas possible when the wrong people are elected.  Think of what came out in the 2011 and 2013 legislatures…gold standards, militias, public flogging, secession, etc.

Whitefish is 45 percent renters, Flathead County is 27 percent and Montana is 31 percent.




13 Comments on "Montana Supreme Court to Decide Voting Rights Case"

  1. Why should this be about voting and not just about zoning that affects property owners. This is the same argument that is used in places like Missoula where college kids who don’t own property and don’t plan to stay in Missoula will vote to increase property taxes on the rest of property owner. UM enrollment is down, as a result of Missoula’s high cost of housing and other factors. County governments don’t seem to realize there is a cost to zoning regulations, in higher home prices and higher rents.

    • You heard it here first folks, conservatives would strip students of the right to vote.

      • Utter nonsense. Such student can always vote absentee in their home counties whether in Montana or out-of-state. Jeff, merely pointed out the consequences from the distortions he sees. Now as to the topic, it was a survey of opinion, not a plebiscite.

        • Well, it should have been a plebiscite. When do elected officials send, at taxpayers’ expense, a biased survey of “opinion” to selected individuals and then attempt to use it to defend policy positions? It’s outrageous. As a property owner and resident of the “doughnut” I was mystified as to why my husband and I (joint owners) received just one survey and other individuals received multiple surveys… until I realized that the County Commissioners were never interested in the opinions of the people who actually live in the doughnut. They were interested in forcing a political agenda on the community of Whitefish. I look forward to hearing what the Supreme Court has to say about what is essentially a case about voters’ rights to challenge actions taken by their elected officials.

  2. If the county is going to oversee issues in those zones than those people living there should have a say. After all, that would likely cost the county more and everyone will have to pay for that. Who’s building those roads out there, sewage and water lines, and who’s paying for it?

    I wrote about zoning in Missoula on my site today because it’s an issue lots of homeowners are concerned about. Neighborhood covenants and homeowners associations, and whether or not those things are enforced and what recourse neighbors have, is also an issue.

    People get frustrated when they feel they have no voice in these things and no one will listen. Then they start blaming government, whether county, state, or federal. Do we need more people in Montana blaming government for things all the time?

  3. Something that doesn’t get a lot of attention as well is the huge backlog the Montana District Courts are dealing with.

    For instance, in Missoula County’s 4th District (which also encompasses Mineral County) our case load has gone up by 12%.

    Other counties like Yellowstone (27%) and Cascade (24%) have also seen increases. Many times these are cases dealing with children, abuse, or drugs and those just take longer.

    Perhaps if the legislature would give these counties the extra judicial resources they need (as well as some extra office support staff) maybe the Montana Supreme Court would have more time and effort to deal with things like these surveys.

    Eh, maybe not, but it is an issue those looking to work across party lines and get some serious business done next year in Helena can take up. If you can get support on a lot of smaller, and often neglected issues, you’ll have more friends on your side for the big fights.

  4. The hearing should be held on April Fools Day.

  5. I feel that somebody needs to correct a misstatement here. You said: “The fact that our Supreme Court is hearing this case means they understand the consequences, importance and impact it will have on all of Montana not just Whitefish and Flathead County.”

    That is incorrect. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which only takes cases it chooses to hear, the Montana Supreme Court is obligated to take ALL cases where any party appeals from a district court verdict or final order.

    That said, I agree that this issue is important.

    • True that MT Supreme Court takes all appeals, also true that it is significant case as scheduled for one of the two or three times the Court has oral arguments in a venue other than Helena.

      • And I would submit that the Court schedules oral arguments outside Helena because they always need an oral argument in April at the University of Montana for Law Week. I am not saying the case is not controversial or important, just that the fact that it is scheduled for oral argument outside Helena is not any more of an indication of its importance than the fact it is scheduled for oral argument at all.

        Further, I skimmed the briefs in the appeal–there are many due to the presence of more than two parties. But I was unable to locate any arguments about who was entitled to vote that this post claims are so important. Are they relevant? Maybe. Are they the focus of the case? Definitely not.

  6. That’s not the focus of the case. The question is, did a plebiscite by city residents ONLY re asserting extraterritorial zoning control by bodies that are selected by city residents ONLY is illegal.
    Totalitarian wannabees in WF. Straight ticket Marxists after this last cycle.

    • Typical Skinner drivel. On several occasions the City of Whitefish presented a plan for doughnut residents to have a vote. Each time they were shot down by Jim Dupont. This was never about representation, it’s always been about deregulation. How soon we forget it was the County’s idea for the doughnut in the first place.

  7. I read your previous posts about Barry Beach, and would like to see you continue to give information about his situation and the terribly justice he is receiving. Having said that, I really hate to read your generalized comments about the Tea Party (a group that opposes excessive taxes but has been maligned for every sin in the book), and your comments suggesting that anyone with conservative views is a racist. You lose your effectiveness when you make these sweeping statements about people who may have a different opinion than you have about the fundamental issues our country faces, but who are no less patriotic, committed, or informed.
    Please continue your posts about Barry Beach and what the public can do about his situation.

    Thank you

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