Can Independents Vote In The Montana Primary? The State's System Is Being Challenged

As the 2016 presidential primary winds down, delegate-rich states like California have dominated headlines leaving little room for news of primaries in smaller states such as Montana. Although they might head to the polls in the shadow of their West Coast neighbor, registered voters in Montana will still cast ballots to have their say in the presidential primaries. But who exactly can participate in Montana's primary? The importance of the independent vote in this year's presidential election has been well established by some of the earlier state primaries. So, can independents vote in the Montana primary? The state's system of nonpartisan registration and open primaries means voters have more freedom when it comes to voting in the primary.

In some ways, all of Montana's voters have the potential to be independents. The state has nonpartisan registration, meaning a voter does not have the option of declaring a party affiliation on their voter registration form. In Big Sky Country you're simply a registered voter unless who may or may not identify with a specific political party.

The state takes things one step further with its open primary system. Montana is one of 18 states that hold open primaries for both parties. In an open primary, any registered voter can vote in any party's primary. Voters in Montana select the ballot of the party who's primary they want to vote in on the day of the primary. While there are no rules on who can vote in which party's primary, voters are only allowed to cast one ballot. Under Montana state rules, if you opt to vote in the Democratic primary, you cannot also cast a ballot in the state's Republican primary.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Montana's open primary could prove good news for Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. Thanks to a large base of support among independent voters, the Vermont senator has often performed better in open primaries. Although frontrunner Hillary Clinton is expected to clinch the nomination Tuesday with delegates from New Jersey.

But it appears some are not so keen on the state's open primary policy. Montana Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court in March to have Tuesday's Republican vote changed to a closed primary after an initial request was denied by a US district judge and by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Great Falls Tribune reported. The party is seeking to enable only registered party members to vote due to concerns regarding the influence nonparty members could have on their elections.

Montana will send 27 delegates to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Of the 27 Democratic delegates 21 are pledged delegates allocated to candidates proportionately in accordance to the statewide vote. The 27 Republican delegates are awarded winner-take-all to the candidate with the plurality of votes.