This voting rights case is based upon First Amendment rights to speak through being able to run for office without undue burdens imposed by the State and to associate through being able to vote for the candidate of your choice.

The Plaintiff, Steve Kelly, sought to run for US Senate and was prevented from doing so because of the onerous conditions requiring the gathering of almost 10,000 signatures, a filing fee of almost $2,000, and requiring him to file in March, long before the other general election candidates are known. In March 2008, the ACLU filed a complaint on behalf of Mr. Kelly, challenging the statutory requirements as unconstitutionally burdensome on Mr. Kelly’s right to “ballot access” or being an independent candidate.

In October 2008, the US District Court denied our request for a preliminary injunction to place Kelly on the November 2008 ballot. The case is nonetheless going forward on the general unconstitutionality of the statutes defining ballot access. We followed with a motion for summary judgment that the court enter a declaratory judgment that Montana’s ballot access law for independent and minor party candidates violates rights guaranteed them under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The court ruled in February 2010 that Kelly did not have legal standing because he did not try to fulfill the requirements to get on the ballot and was thus not harmed. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor and remanded the case back to trial court, which in 2012 ruled that current deadline for independent and minority party candidates to file for office and submit signatures is unconstitutionally early. An attempt to amend that deadline in the 2013 Montana Legislature was unsuccessful so we continue to work to fix this issue.


Elizabeth Griffing and Jon Ellingson (ACLU of Montana) Bryan Sells and Laughlin McDonald (ACLU National Voting Rights Project)

Date filed

April 8, 2008


US District Court for the District of Montana, Butte Division


Sam Haddon

Case number

CV 08-25-BU-SEH