A judge's poor judgement



On Election Day, those who voted at Whitefish's First Baptist Church couldn't miss a pickup parked out front. Aside from its dozens of anti-Obama bumper-stickers and stenciling admonishing various laws and federal agencies, the truck bed held an American flag and a large, wooden sign. "Your choice is very clear," it read. "Socialism-Marxism or Liberty-Freedom." The sign then listed the Republican candidates for president, U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor.

Such far-right political statements aren't exactly unexpected during a heated election season, but the mobile billboard crossed the line because the person who parked the truck at the polling place was a Flathead County election judge. Voters complained that the signage violated Montana's "100-foot rule," which restricts "electioneering on election day within any polling place...or within 100 feet of any entrance to the building which the polling place is located." By the time Flathead County Election Administrator Paula Robinson sent a staffer to tell the election judge to move his truck farther away from the church, he already had.

"Certainly for me, in hiring election judges," Robinson said on Election Day, "there isn't anything that states that they can't drive a vehicle and park it 100, 200 feet away from a polling place with a political sign on it. ...And so, at this point, I guess it's more of an ethical question. Who am I to determine, if it's not within statute, whether he's ethically right or wrong?"

Robinson said an official complaint would need to be filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices. As of Nov. 13, the office hadn't received one, but Robinson said the election judge, whose name she declined to divulge, "did come to my office and apologize and asked to be removed from our active election judge list."

Montana's election featured several high-profile and close races, but for all the campaigning, the Commissioner of Political Practices has so far received only three electioneering complaints. All three of those complaints dealt with Lake County Justice of the Peace-elect Joey Jayne, who allegedly handed out campaign materials to early voters waiting in line on Monday, Nov. 5, at the Lake County elections office. Jayne has denied any wrongdoing.

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