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How C-46 And C-47 Would Change Montana's Constitution

Montana voters this election will decide whether the state constitution requires some updating. 

Constitutional Revisions 46 and 47 revise constitutional language dealing with signature collection efforts for ballot initiatives.

Constitutional Revisions 46 and 47 don’t have the sizzle of some higher profile initiatives on this year’s ballot. But if passed, they would revise Montana’s constitution.

"And that’s a big deal, but I want to assuage some of your fears right off the bat," State Senator Bryce Bennett said during the 2019 legislative session.

Bennett, a Missoula Democrat, spoke in favor of two measures he described as clean-up efforts.

"I know that anytime we try to change the Constitution there are some big concerns about it, but that is not what we’re trying to do today. Today we are just trying to clarify that what the Constitution is telling people is no longer accurate."

With the help of Libby Republican Steve Gunderson, those bills advanced and are now in front of voters in the forms of C-46 and C-47.

Back in 2002 voters passed two initiatives changing ballot initiative signature collection requirements. A federal judge threw out the mandates in 2005, saying the formula essentially gave equal power to counties of unequal population. The state has abided by the ruling, but the language of those rejected initiatives were never changed in Montana’s constitution.

Under C-46, supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment would need to collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified voters in at least 40 of the state's 100 legislative districts.

C-47 pertains to proposed ballot initiatives or veto referenda. If it passes, supporters would need to collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in one-third of the state's legislative districts.

State House Minority Whip Kim Abbott voted against the original bills during the last legislative session.

"My thinking at the time was if it’s not changing anything for anybody and it’s making the ballot little longer and it’s a little quirky, the language is confusing; let’s not do it," she said.

But Abbott, a Helena Democrat, tells Montana Public Radio she’s changed her mind and now plans to support both C-46 and C-47. 

"That ruling hasn’t been appealed in close to 20 years. I don’t see it to be likely that it'll be appealed in the future, so I think it’s totally fine to clean up that language in the Constitution."

No groups have formed to officially support or oppose either measure.

See the full text of the proposed revisions in the 2020 voter information pamphlet.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.