In a 4–3 decision last week, the Montana Supreme Court chose not to hear Democratic House District 12 candidate Jeanne Windham’s challenge of seven ballots with marks for both Constitution Party candidate Rick Jore and Republican candidate Jack Cross. Currently, Windham and Jore are tied at 1,559 votes apiece and the winner of the contested race will determine whether the Montana House remains under Republican control or is tied 50–50 with a Democratic speaker of the house. On Monday, Dec. 13, the state’s Board of Canvassers, consisting of three Democrats, voted to certify the results as a tie, if for no other reason than to allow Windham’s court challenge to move forward. The case will move to District Judge Kim Christopher in Lake County District Court, with an initial hearing scheduled for Friday, Dec. 17. If Christopher throws out only one of the seven contested ballots, Windham will be the representative for House District 12. In the meantime, now that the Board of Canvassers has certified the results, outgoing Gov. Judy Martz is expected to appoint Rick Jore, a former Republican, to the seat. If Christopher rules to include all of the contested ballots—many of which had markings for both Jore and Cross but were counted for Jore—the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court would likely hear the appeal should it boomerang back to their chambers, since one member of the slight 4–3 majority, Justice William Leaphart, made it clear that he is not against the Supreme Court hearing the case, but that, in following correct legal procedure, it should first be presented to Lake County District Court.
The Lake County challenge will be argued by Helena lawyer Mike Meloy, and is filed on behalf of Anita Big Spring, a tribal Get Out the Vote organizer. Jore is particularly unpopular among many Flathead Reservation American Indians, who still recall two prior legislative terms in which Jore was an outspoken critic of tribal positions on several sovereignty issues.