The Montana Republican Party announced Tuesday that Executive Director Jake Eaton, who was at the center of the party’s recent failed attempt to challenge the registrations of nearly 6,000 voters in the state, had left his position to pursue other interests, the AP reports.
The party said it had hired former state lawmaker Larry Grinde of Lewistown to replace Eaton.
Grinde served 14 years in the Montana House and was majority leader for eight of those years. He also ran the get-out-the-vote operation for Montana Republicans in 2006, and is past chairman of the Republican Legislative Candidates Committee.
Matt Singer, CEO of Forward Montana, a group that led the effort to stop the voter challenge, said in a statement:
Eaton’s departure marks an opportunity for the Montana Republican Party to make a renewed commitment to the rights of voters. While the civil rights of thousands of improperly challenged voters, including my own, have now been protected, it would be imprudent to think that similar challenges are impossible in the future.
Last month, Republican leaders filed affidavits against about 6,000 registered voters in seven Democratic-leaning Montana counties claiming a change of address had invalidated their registrations. Montana Democrats sued, and U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula called the GOP’s attempt “political chicanery.” He wrote:
One can imagine the mischief an immature political operative could inject into an election cycle were he to use the statutes, not for their intended purpose of protecting the integrity of the people’s democracy, but rather to execute a tawdry partisan ploy. Voters might be intimidated, confused, or even discouraged from voting upon receiving notice that their right to vote – the most precious right in a government of, by, and for the people – has been challenged. The mess created for those volunteers and elected officials dedicated to preserving the integrity of the system is nearly unimaginable in terms of the time and expense necessary to deal with such blanket challenges.
Montana Republicans abandoned the effort the following day. Eaton wrote in a letter:
My intent was to ensure that voters are properly registered and that Montanans would have the utmost faith in the integrity of our elections process. Nevertheless, because of the unintended consequences that have been reported, I will not file any other elector challenges.