McGrath: All Ravalli County Residents Are ‘Qualified Voters’
HELENA – In a formal opinion released Monday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that all residents of Ravalli County — including those living in incorporated areas, like cities — are “qualified voters” when it comes to voting on county initiatives.
In 2006, Ravalli County residents sponsored two zoning initiatives. During the signature-gathering process to place the measures on the ballot, the county said that the only acceptable signatures were those of voters in unincorporated areas of the county. During the November 2006 election, only voters living in unincorporated areas were allowed to vote on the countywide zoning initiatives.
Earlier this year, Hamilton City Attorney Kenneth Bell requested the attorney general’s opinion, asking for clarification on which voters were “qualified voters” on the Ravalli County zoning measures.
The opinion released Monday notes that Montana law directs the legislature to extend “initiative and referendum powers” to the qualified electors of each local government unit, and defines a “qualified elector” as a citizen 18 years old or older who meets the registration and residency requirements for the local government election. Nothing in state law limits that voting privilege to voters outside of city limits.
“Residents of an incorporated area are residents of, and pay taxes in, the particular city as well as the county,” the attorney general held. “Just as county citizens in unincorporated areas are also entitled to vote in state and federal elections, county voters within incorporated areas are entitled to vote in city, county, state and federal elections.”
Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless they are overturned by a court or the legislature modifies the laws involved.