Montana, with its sprawling landscapes and close-knit communities, offers a unique political environment for the 2024 elections. Known for its independent-minded electorate and a history of political balance, Montana presents a fertile ground for independent candidates looking to make a significant impact.
Our goal is to equip independents with essential insights into why Montana presents a promising stage for non-partisan campaigns and what strategies can lead to a successful electoral bid.
Montana's political history is characterized by its independent streak and a tendency to avoid strict party alignment. Historically, the state has fluctuated between Democratic and Republican dominance at different levels of government.
While Montana has leaned Republican in recent federal elections, the state has also elected Democratic governors and senators, indicating a more nuanced and balanced political landscape. Although the Republican Party has had a trifecta of state executives since 2021, Montana had a Democratic governor from 2005 to 2020.
Recent elections have become increasingly partisan and right-leaning, but Montana voters are not adverse to splitting tickets.
This balance creates opportunities for independent candidates, especially those who can connect with voters on local issues and values. It also indicates that Montanans are more swayed by policy than party. That could bode well for an independent who resonates with voters at the local level on specific issues of import to Montana voters.
For Montana voters in 2024, a significant issue concerns potential changes to the state's election system. There are two proposed ballot initiatives that could fundamentally alter how elections are conducted in Montana:
Top-Four Open Primaries: Also known as Ballot Issue Number 12, this proposal would create a system of top-four open primaries for most state and federal elections in Montana, regardless of party affiliation. This system, which replaces the current partisan primary system, would allow the four candidates with the most votes in the primary to advance to the general election. The aim is to create a more pluralistic government that doesn't concentrate power in party leadership.
Majority Vote Requirement: This second initiative would amend the Montana Constitution to require that winners of general elections receive a majority of the vote, rather than simply the most votes. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the Legislature would decide the outcome, potentially through a traditional runoff election or through ranked choice voting. This change is seen as a way to ensure that the winning candidate has majority support and to address concerns about extremism driven by small numbers of voters in partisan primaries.
These initiatives are supported by a coalition of former Republican officials, third-party candidates, and moderate wings of the GOP in Montana. They aim to reform what they describe as a "broken political system" and give more freedom to voters to elect candidates of their choice. Such changes in the election system could also provide opportunities for independent and third-party candidates.
Other issues that voters in Montana are grappling with are a mix of general national concerns, such as jobs and the economy, and problems that are specific to Montana.
For example, Landowner Hunting Initiative I-193 is a policy proposal that would prohibit regulations to prevent licensed landowners from hunting deer, elk, and black bears on their private hunting lands during the statewide general hunting season. This includes land that falls within the boundaries of Native American reservations. Supporters see this as a property rights issue that would support the landowner’s ability to curb destructive wildlife and prevent them from decimating crops and grazing land.
Montana voters will also decide on a constitutional right to abortion in the state. Montana is currently the only state in that region where pre-viability abortions are still legal, and the Right to Abortion Initiative aims to keep it that way by making reproductive choice part of the Montana state constitution.
These initiatives and concerns reflect a broader focus on enhancing voter choice and electoral fairness, while addressing specific local issues.
There are many reasons that a citizen might decide to run for office. In Montana, a successful independent campaign can reach voters who feel unrepresented by traditional party politicians and who are responsive to local and state concerns.
If you need more inspiration to throw your hat into the ring in 2024, here are 10 good reasons to run as an independent in the Big Sky Country:
Montana voters are known for their independent thinking and are often open to candidates who aren't strictly aligned with the major parties.
The state’s history of fluctuating political allegiances suggests that voters are receptive to candidates based on their policies rather than party affiliation.
With a significant rural population, Montana values candidates who focus on local and community-based issues.
Montanans have a strong sense of state identity and pride, which can be appealing to independent candidates who emphasize local over national priorities.
Candidates can engage with a variety of issues, from environmental policy and land use to economic development and healthcare, resonating with different voter groups.
Montana typically sees high voter turnout, indicating an engaged electorate that values their voting rights and is open to considering independent candidates.
Like Washington State, Montana employs a version of an open primary system, which can benefit independent candidates and voters alike.
As in many parts of the country, there is a growing frustration with the two-party system in Montana, providing an opening for independents.
Montana's rich natural resources earned it the nickname “the Treasure State.” Emphasis on conservation and resource management can be central to independent campaigns, especially in contrast to major party platforms.
The state's size and population density make it ideal for grassroots campaigning, allowing independent candidates to build strong, direct relationships with voters.
There are several options for elected office that are nonpartisan or primed for an independent to make a strong showing in upcoming elections.
In 2022, Montana won a second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, meaning that there is an additional opportunity for independent representation at the national level. There are also Senate seats available at the state and national level.
Within the state, Montana voters will choose a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and other executive positions. Both chambers of the Montana legislature are looking for representatives. Voters will also elect a new State Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and three Public Service Commissioners.
Those with the right qualifications could consider elected positions on the State Supreme and District courts, including Chief Supreme Court Justice and Court Clerk. Land Board Officers are an important position in Montana, and voters will choose four new ones in 2024.
Locally, many mayoral, city council, and school board elections were held in 2023. However, the Great Falls area has an open seat for its Board of Trustees in 2024. The date for that election is Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
Last year, one city council race for District 3 in Yellowstone County was canceled due to a lack of candidates. This is something that independents in that county, and throughout the state, could take into consideration in future elections.
In Montana, there are several election deadlines of note for independent candidates. The filing period for the primaries is January 11, 2024 - March 11, 2024. Independent and third-party candidates must file by May 27, 2024. The filing deadline for write-in candidates is September 10, 2024. In-person primary voting is open on June 4, 2024, and the general election is on November 5, 2024.
Independent candidates must walk the line that separates establishment politicians from the people. The best ways to accomplish this sometimes-Herculean feat in Montana include:
Emphasizing grassroots campaigning and personal voter engagement.
Focusing on issues unique to Montana, such as land rights, agriculture, and natural resource management.
Using digital platforms to reach Montana’s widespread and rural electorate effectively.
Addressing both conservative and progressive viewpoints that reflect Montana's diverse political landscape.
Although the state has leaned Republican in recent years, and some areas are solidly right-leaning, voters have been known to mix it up and choose those candidates they feel will best represent their interests. As such, Montana has a tradition of electing candidates who are not strictly aligned with major parties, including:
Brian Schweitzer: Although a Democrat, Schweitzer was known for his independent approach as Governor of Montana, often crossing party lines in his policies and decisions.
Sam Rankin: An economist, Rankin has run multiple times for various offices in Montana as an independent, a Libertarian, a Democrat, and under the banner of the Reform Party. His main policy priorities focus on fiscal responsibility and campaign finance reform.
Sid Daoud: A Libertarian city council member from Kalispell City and chairman of the Libertarian Party in Montana, Daoud is currently shaking things up in Montana’s U.S. Senate race.
Montanans, are you ready to bring change to your state's political landscape? Join Good Party Academy and get the support you need to launch your independent campaign for the 2024 elections. Our platform is designed to support candidates like you who are passionate about making a difference in Montana and around the country. Whether you're aiming for a local office or a state position, we provide the tools and resources you need to gain a competitive edge.