Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has called for more thorough reviews of rejected ballots to identify cases of voter fraud, sparking an email feud with Missoula County and frustrating other election officials from Republican and Democratic counties who see no evidence of a broken system. Stapleton, who took office in January, is the first Montana Secretary of State in memory to declare a crackdown on voter fraud as a priority. The Republican’s policy shift mirrors similar efforts cropping up in other states, where the GOP has secured a growing number of the top election posts, and as President Donald Trump has asserted – with no evidence to date – that he lost the popular election because of millions of illegal votes.
In Montana, Stapleton and other top Republicans opposed allowing counties to do an all-mail election to fill a U.S. House seat vacated in March. Some criticized that stance as a politically motivated effort to suppress votes. Last month, Stapleton issued a press release suggesting one rejected ballot in Missoula County was the result of fraud. Election administrators and political analysts questioned why he would target a Democratic stronghold rather than Yellowstone County, a GOP-leaning community with a higher rate of rejected ballots.
Stapleton denied any suggestion he is looking to score political points by taking up his party’s latest cause. He noted, for instance, that he has joined several states refusing to turn over voter databases to Trump’s Election Integrity Commission for privacy reasons. The request has been temporarily withdrawn as courts weigh in on lawsuits filed in its wake.