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

Public Service Commission, ‘Born Alive’ amendment, Supreme Court races too close to call

By: , and - November 8, 2022 11:28 pm

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. 

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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