A trial date has once again been set for the case of State of Montana vs. Tim McKenrick on April 19 at 9 a.m., after the Fifth District judge denied the defendant’s request to throw out the case for it being too vague.
McKenrick was charged with a single felony count of deceptive election practices after allegedly falsifying his signature on an absentee ballot for Jefferson High School’s May 2022 election. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in state prison, a $50,000 fine or both, if convicted.
On Nov. 1, McKenrick’s attorney Kimberly Wein and Mat Stevenson of Stevenson Law Office filed a motion to dismiss the charges because the charging statute – Montana Code Annotated 45-7-208, Tampering with Public Records or Information – is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. Wein also argued that because McKenrick had in fact signed the election envelope, it could not have been falsified.
“It was simply different from the signature on record,” read the defense’s motion.
Judge Luke Berger issued his decision on the constitutionality of the statute in January, siding with the State and claiming that the case could set a precedent for such matters. Berger denied the motion to dismiss.
“The court agrees with the State that if McKenrick’s conduct of submitting a false signature on a ballot envelope in an effort to test the system was a protected right, it would allow people to simply claim they were expressing political beliefs when falsifying documents and submitting them to the government to be taken as genuine,which would call into question the integrity of the entire election process,” read Berger’s decision. “The government must play an active role in structuring and regulating elections to ensure they are fair and honest.”
Berger was also not convinced by the defense’s argument that McKenrick was incapable of falsifying his own signature. The absentee envelope, which McKenrick signed, read “I _______ (printed name of the elector) hereby declare that the signature submitted below is my signature and that it is the same as my signature on my absentee ballot signature envelope.”
Signing the statement, Berger wrote, meant that both signatures matched one another.
“This was false, as he admittedly changed his signature on the ballot envelope. Therefore, it does not matter he was the individual to sign the ballot envelope and it was not forged,” read Berger’s decision.
McKenrick’s trial, which is expected to last two days, will follow a final pretrial conference scheduled for March 29.
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