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Montana’s statewide results trickle as digital privacy amendment seems certain


Montana’s statewide results trickle as digital privacy amendment seems certain

Nov 09, 2022 | 1:28 am ET
By Darrell Ehrlick Nicole Girten Keila Szpaller
Montana’s statewide results trickle as digital privacy amendment seems certain
Voters register and vote in Yellowstone County, Montana on Nov. 8, 2022. Despite icy and snowpacked roads, voters turned out in Montana's largest city (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

The first real blast of winter hit Montana on Monday and into Election Day and while it didn’t appear to dampen voters’ spirits, results seemed to match the slower place as less than 15% of votes were tallied by 11 p.m.

About the only race that seemed to be definitive was a little covered constitutional amendment, Constitutional Amendment 48, which specifically added digital privacy to Montana’s right-to-privacy, among the most expansive in the nation. With just 14% of the precincts reporting, CI-48 enjoyed an 81% to 19% lead and was ahead by more than 55,000 votes.

The other ballot issue, which was largely seen as a referendum on abortion, was in a virtual deadlock at 50%, after originally jumping out to a lead. The “Born Alive” referendum, Legislative Referendum 131 proposed by State Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, purportedly requires a doctor to save the life of a viable fetus delivered as part of an abortion.

Abortion in Montana remains legal, largely as part of the state’s constitutional right to privacy. However, many anti-abortion advocates had supported LR-131, while medical providers said the situation doesn’t happen and only makes care of medically complicated pregnancies more difficult.

Supreme Court

The race for the second seat on the Montana Supreme Court is still too early to call with 20 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Incumbent Ingrid Gustafson, who first took the seat in 2017, has so far brought in 52 percent of the vote that’s been counted so far. Public Service Commission President and attorney James Brown raked in 48 percent at this point.

In a race that received far less attention, state Supreme Court incumbent Jim Rice had a wide lead over challenger Bill D’Alton.

Supreme Court races in Montana are non-partisan, but the race between Gustafson and Brown has been colored by partisan influence, with high profile sitting Republicans endorsing Brown in the race and Brown telling a crowd earlier this year that Gov. Greg Gianforte encouraged him to run. History is on Gustafson and Rice’s side as incumbents who have run for re-election to the state’s only appellate court have won for more than decade without being unseated by a challenger.

The race also saw an unprecedented amount of outside spending, with more than $2 million reported to the Commissioner of Political Practices in October alone, according to reporting by Lee Enterprises.

Public Service Commission

Democrat John Repke and Republican Ann Bukacek were battling for a solid lead lead in the Montana Public Service Commission late Tuesday.

At 11 p.m., with most of the votes yet to be counted, Repke was in the lead at 52 percent, and he was ahead in Lewis and Clark County. Bukacek was ahead in Lake and Teton counties. District 5 also includes Flathead County, which had not yet reported.

The Public Service Commission regulates monopoly utilities in Montana such as Northwestern Energy, and the all-Republican board has been mired in controversy in recent years.

Two of the five PSC seats were on the ballot, but just one was competitive.

Bukacek has called for applying free-market principles to regulation “as often as possible.” She’s a former member of the Flathead City-County Board of Health who drew controversy and national attention for challenging the COVID-19 death toll, according to the Daily Interlake in Kalispell.

Repke, a retired private sector finance manager, ran in part on being a voice in contrast to some of the dysfunction on the commission. He called for “good governance, managing resources responsibly and planning for the future.”

In District 1, which includes much of the northern and eastern portions of the state, incumbent Republican Randy Pinocci beat Republican K. Webb Galbreath in the primary. Pinocci ran unopposed in the general election.

PSC President James Brown is on the ballot for the Montana Supreme Court in a race that’s also too close to call. Montana code notes any PSC vacancy must be filled by appointment by the governor.