Former Secretary Of State Files Lawsuit To Ensure Equal Representation In Montana's Public Service Commission
December 22, 2021 | View PDF
Helena, MT - Bob Brown, former Montana Secretary of State and Senate President, Hailey Sinoff, Campus Climate Coalition Co-Lead and a senior at Montana State University, and Donald Seifert, former Gallatin County Commissioner, have filed a lawsuit challenging Montana’s Public Service Commission (“PSC”) districts, which have remained unchanged since 2003 despite significant population shifts across the state.
Since the Montana State Legislature drew the current PSC district boundaries in 2003, the population along the Hi-Line and much of eastern Montana has remained stable or declined. Meanwhile, populations in western Montana, Bozeman, and Billings have grown considerably. The legislature has refused to redraw district boundaries to reflect current population levels, repeatedly killing bills that would have solved the problem in nearly every session over the last decade.
The one-person, one-vote rule enshrined in the 14th Amendment protects voters’ right to an equal voice in statewide electoral politics. Under the rule, population differences between districts that exceed 10% are presumed unconstitutional. Now, as a result of nearly 20 years of legislative inaction, population disparities between PSC districts in Montana are extreme—nearly 25% more people live in District 5 than live in District 1.
“Protecting the one-person, one-vote rule in Montana is essential. As Secretary of State, I fought to ensure that every Montanan had fair and equal access to the ballot box,” said Bob Brown. “As the Public Service Commission districts stand today, Montanans are not equally represented. Fortunately, this issue has a simple solution: redistrict the Public Service Commission before the 2022 election.”
When it comes to Montana’s state and federal congressional districts, an independent commission is responsible for reapportionment based on decennial census data. But no mechanism ensures equal representation among PSC districts. And the Montana State Legislature has taken no action, even as federal census data has confirmed the population shifts obvious to all Montanans.
“In regulating utilities, the Public Service Commission is engaged in work that affects Montanans’ lives daily,” said Hailey Sinoff. “The Commissioners’ work and the decisions they make are hugely important. All Montanans should have an equal say in who we elect to make these essential policy choices.”
Joel Krautter, Constance Van Kley, and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan represent Brown, Sinoff, and Seifert. Krautter, a former state representative from Sidney, practices with the Netzer Law Office, which has offices in Sidney and Billings. Van Kley and Sommers-Flanagan lead Upper Seven Law, a Helena-based nonprofit law firm dedicated to holding the powerful accountable.