A Missoula District Judge has thrown out a request by a group that sought to collect electronic signatures on a petition to qualify two issues related to recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot. Attorney General Tim Fox represented the State of Montana.

“This group didn’t start going through the process until January so they could have done this months and months ago, but did not,” Fox said. “They finally got their approval for signature gathering. You have to get a certain number of signatures from registered voters across the state to actually get initiatives on the ballot. Of course, the COVID-19 crisis hit and people were having to social distance and stay at home.”

Fox said the group, New Approach Montana, got a late start in gathering signatures to get their issue on the primary ballot.

“When they filed suit, they argued that the court should order the state to accept electronic signatures over the internet in lieu of actual signatures of registered voters,” Fox said. “There is not system set up for that. While it might be technologically possible, it is not something the state is set up for. Even more troubling is asking the court to create law. That just doesn’t work in our system of separation of power.”

Fox said he was gratified that the judge denied the petition.

“My office defended the lawsuit,” Fox said. “It was filed against the state of Montana and the Secretary of State, Corey Stapleton. Yesterday, Judge Larson from Missoula County District Court issued an order denying their petition. As it stands now, anyone trying to get an initiative on the ballot will continue to have to gather signatures the traditional way.”

Judge Larson also rejected the group’s request to extend the deadline to gather signatures past the original July 17 deadline.