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Federal judge says public service districts likely illegal

| December 28, 2021 7:00 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana's Public Service Commission districts, which have not been reapportioned in two decades, are likely unconstitutional, a federal judge has concluded.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in his order Wednesday that voters challenging the constitutionality of the districts were "likely — though not certain" to succeed in their lawsuit to have the districts redrawn before the 2022 election, the Billings Gazette reported.

At issue is whether those districts violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that political districts balance under the "one-person, one-vote rule" that allows a deviation of no more than 10% from the ideal population.

The voters challenging the districts are former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown of Flathead County, and Hailey Sinoff and Donald Seifert of Gallatin County. They have asked for a three-judge panel to do the redistricting that Montana's Legislature has repeatedly tried and failed to do.

Until the districts are brought into balance, the plaintiffs ask that Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen be stopped from certifying candidates for PSC elections in 2022.

If each of the state's five PSC districts contained 216,845 people, they would balance. Only one of Montana's five PSC districts, District 2, anchored by Billings, comes close to the target population. Two of the districts up for election in 2022 happen to be extremely out of whack.