The fate of an estimated 2,700 transgender people hangs in the balance, but the Montana Secretary of State’s Office won’t say whether or not an anti-trans bathroom referendum has made it onto the ballot.
It’s now been a week since the Montana Family Foundation hit their deadline to turn in signatures on I-183, a measure that mandates sex segregated bathrooms regardless of a trans person’s updated legal documents.
But with the nation watching Montana, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office has stonewalled multiple press inquiries about whether or not the measure has gained the needed 25,468 to clear the ballot, not even responding to say whether or not they are in the process of certifying signatures.
The measure would mark the first time any state has voted on transgender bathroom rights and only the second time a state has faced a referendum on transgender rights after Massachusetts votes on whether or not to repeal public accommodations protections for trans people in November.
The Secretary of State’s Office did not respond to more than an a dozen inquiries on the fate of the measure over the course of five days.
At the end of last month, Montana Secretary of State Elections Specialist Alan Miller told INTO that only a couple dozen signatures had been turned in for I-183. It is not known if signature gatherers turned in petitions en masse since that time.
Free & Fair Montana, the coalition fighting the measure, told its Facebook followers last week that “our research indicates at this time that Montanans have not signed the Family Foundation request to get this initiative on the ballot,” but added that more would come.
Staffers in Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s Office had initially said that signatures could take up to a week to verify. In some cases, the office can take several weeks to process signatures, say advocates.
But on Friday, the office had not even responded to multiple calls and emails on whether or not additional ballots had been turned in or what the process for counting signatures would look like.
Shawn Reagor, vice-chair of Free & Fair Montana, said his initial calls last Friday showed positive signs for the campaign, but the following Monday, Free & Fair Montana “got completely stonewalled.”
“It’s really unfortunate when when when we’re talking about an initiative like this that affects so many Montanans,” said Reagor. “It’s really important that we know that information as soon as possible to help relieve some of the anxiety that community members are facing.”
The push for a bathroom referendum comes after anti-trans activists failed to push the measure onto the ballot through the state legislature last spring where it failed in committee.
However, I-183 was widely expected to clear the threshold of signatures to make it to the ballot. LGBTQ advocates were so certain of its threat that they launched the Free & Fair Montana Coalition in April.
Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy did not respond to an inquiry over early reports that his organization failed to garner the signatures needed to put I-183 on the ballot. However, the group has largely been mum about the measure on its social media accounts. The organization reminded petitioners to turn in their signatures, but there is no photo celebrating conclusion of petition gathering or any word on whether it hit the mark on signatures.
It’s not the first time that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has had trouble with the media. Last year, he drew ire because he alleged voter fraud in the state during a special congressional election, a claim which he later attributed to being misquoted in the press. In January, his office sent an email to 130,000 people claiming there “is one huge problem with mainstream media in America.” The flap caused The Missoulian to brand him “Montana’s Mini-Trump.”