Supporters of various constitutional and statutory initiatives will be out in force trying to gather the required number of voter signatures to qualify their measures for the November ballot. The deadline for signature gathering is June 18.
One of the groups planning to take advantage of today's election to gather more signatures is the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, a group working to ban abortion.
"Polling places are public forums that provide a great opportunity to gather signatures and explain the pro-life position," Kalispell physician Annie Bukacek, of the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, said in a statement last week.
Bukacek, who declined an interview request for this story, is the sponsor of CI-102, an initiative aimed at outlawing abortion by defining a "person" as including all human beings "from the beginning of the biological development."
She participated in a similar ballot initiative in 2008.
In an e-mail to supporters, Bukacek warned CI-102 signature gathers and supporters to learn from the experiences of the last primary election.
"In 2008, many of those hired to oppose us were belligerent, some made false accusation to election judges and misinformed the police," Bukacek said. "We have taken precautions to improve the experience of pro-life signature gatherers by communicating with law enforcement beforehand."
But this time around it's not just pro-abortion rights groups that are opposing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
I blogged about this division last year shortly after the Montana Pro-Life Coalition announced the CI-102 campaign.
In a letter posted on Right to Life of Montana's website, executive director Gregg Trude called the proposed amendment "a serious tactical mistake" in the fight to end abortion:
"The Montana Personhood Amendment people have an agenda. They have not shown a good faith intention to develop a true coalition involving reasonable dialogue with other well-established Pro-Life groups. Consistently, they point to judicial tyranny and offer no realistic strategy of how they propose to end it.""There are some people that have blinders on and they are not looking at the political ramifications behind it," Trude said in an interview Monday. "There are always people out there that don't care about the ramifications of this. They only care that they believe they are doing the right thing."
Chief among Trude's concerns is the fear that if CI- 102 becomes law it could lead to an affirmation of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.
"I appreciate the intent for which they have tried to do this, but this just isn't the right time," Trude said. "If they get enough signatures, and it does pass, then it goes to the Montana Supreme Court and then goes up to the U.S. Supreme Court."
Where, Trude said, Justice Anthony Kennedy would probably side with the four liberal members on the panel and "concrete" the Roe v. Wade decision.
While some anti-abortion groups are opposed to CI-102, Allyson Hagen, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, said the division is really just a difference of strategy.
"These groups share the same goal of outlawing abortion and endangering the health of Montana women," Hagen said. "The consequences of amendments like this are far-reaching and dangerous. We ask that all Montanans who value the right to privacy and the health and safety of the women in their lives decline to sign the petition for CI-102."
To qualify an initiative or referendum for the November 2010 ballot, sponsors must obtain
signatures of 5 percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state, including 5 percent of the voters in each of 34 legislative house districts, for a total of 24,337 signatures.
To qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot, signatures of 10 percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state, including 10 percent of the voters in each of 40 legislative house districts must be obtained for a total of 48,674 signatures.
UPDATE: I mistakenly reported that the Montana Family Foundation is also urging its supporters to stay away from the CI-102 initiative. While MFF executive director Jeff Laszloffy has told me in the past the his organization is not supporting CI-102, he pointed out in an e-mail to me this morning the following:
"With regards to the Montana Family Foundation that is incorrect. We've taken a completely neutral stance on 102 and have not contacted our constituents regarding the initiative at all."