SafeMontana backers say audit finds nearly 6,000 valid signatures

BILLINGS – Backers of Initiative 176 – the anti-drug measure – said an audit has found enough valid signatures to put the issue to voters in November.

Steve Zabawa, a Billings business owner who launched I-176, said in a press release issued Friday afternoon that an audit of 8.009 signatures rejected by county elections offices and the Montana Secretary of State found nearly 6,000 voter signatures are valid.

“We will be submitting these to the Montana Secretary of State’s office for validation so that I-176 will be on the 2016 ballot,” the press release states.

Zabawa said the initiative supporters will hold a press conference Monday to “explain the audit results…(and) we will unveil our recommendations to the Secretary of State and the county election offices to improve the procedures so that missing and lost signatures do not derail any initiative processes in the future,” according to the press release.

Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office announced I-176 fell about 4,000 signatures short to qualify for the November ballot.

The initiative would effectively end medical marijuana within the state.

It was unclear Friday if state officials would re-consider the audited signatures and certify the measure for the November ballot.

A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said Friday they haven’t received any new information from SafeMontana, but the office is bound by state law to certify signatures by specific dates which have already passed. Also, the final ballot needs to be certified by Aug. 25, she said.