Montana: District court blocks GOP’s new voting laws | Alex Sakariassen/Missoula Current

A district court judge in Yellowstone County on Wednesday temporarily blocked four new election administration laws passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature that have been challenged by the Montana Democratic Party and a coalition of Indigenous and voter advocacy organizations. In his order granting the injunction, Judge Michael Moses said the plaintiffs made a convincing case they would suffer “irreparable injury” by “the loss of constitutional rights” if the laws were not blocked for the remainder of the legal proceedings. The Montana Democratic Party, which has submitted hundreds of pages of declarations and expert testimony to support its position, hailed the order as a “win for voting rights.” “These four GOP bills were a blatant and cynical attack on Montanans’ constitutional right to vote, specifically impacting young voters, Native voters, elderly and disabled voters, and voters who have trouble getting to the polls,” said Sheila Hogan, the party’s executive director, in an emailed statement. “You cannot pick and choose who can vote in a democracy.” Helena attorney Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, who represents Montana Youth Action and several other youth-oriented voter nonprofits in the case, similarly referred to the injunction as a “victory for young voters and for all Montanans.” Ronnie Jo Horse, executive director for plaintiff Western Native Voice, said in a statement that her group will “continue to hold our elected officials accountable especially when it comes to voting rights for our Native communities.”

Full Article: District court blocks Montana GOP’s new voting laws – Missoula Current

Montana’s new voter management system to be tested during 2022 primaries | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

For the first time since 2005, Montana election administrators in some counties will begin running the state’s new voter management system alongside the current system in a series of “parallel tests” before a more-broad deployment next year. The current schedule calls for all the state’s counties to switch over to the new “ElectMT” system on the third week of 2023, state Elections Manager Stuart Fuller told lawmakers Thursday. Before that happens, Fuller said, 15 counties will conduct parallel tests during the 2022 primary and general federal elections. That will give those election workers the opportunity to test-drive the ElectMT system while the official election processes — from registering voters to printing, mailing and accepting ballots — will be run on the tried-and-true MontanaVotes system. MontanaVotes was adopted statewide in 2006, and the state has been developing a successor to the aging system since 2019.

Full Article: Test-runs of MT’s new election system to begin with 2022 primaries | 406 Politics |

Montana election officials worry Secretary of State is rushing new election system | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

Election officials in Montana are ringing alarm bells that the Secretary of State’s plan to move forward with new election software at the start of 2022 could leave them with a largely untested, unworkable system for next year’s federal elections. Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen is planning to replace a statewide election database system that tracks voter registrations and interacts with nearly all levels of running elections, from updating precincts to printing and accepting ballots, by January 2022. Her predecessor, Corey Stapleton, had previously begun the process of switching from the current system, “Montana Votes,” with a new system known as “electMT.” But during a meeting of the Legislature’s State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee last week, the top county election officials from Cascade and Ravalli counties said that months of delays and a missed deadline for a major test during this year’s general elections has created the need to push back that switch-over date. They also indicated Jacobsen’s office has been unresponsive to their concerns.

Full Article: Election officials worry Secretary of State is rushing new election system | 406 Politics |

Montana: GOP legislators push for special panel to probe elections | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

An overwhelming majority of Montana’s GOP legislators are urging their leadership in the state House and Senate to appoint a special committee to investigate the security of the state’s election system, an effort spearheaded by Republican legislators who are pushing theories of widespread voting fraud. The decision to appoint a special select committee, as requested in the Wednesday letter signed by 86 of the GOP’s 98 lawmakers, rests entirely in the hands of Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Speaker Wylie Galt, both Republicans. Galt didn’t return phone calls requesting comment on the letter, which asks for a response from them by Oct. 6, and Blasdel declined to comment when reached Friday. The letter proposes forming a GOP-majority committee, in which each party gets seats relative to their numbers in each chamber. Republicans hold 67 of 100 House seats and 31 of 50 Senate seats. “Many of our constituents have reached out to us with questions about Montana election security,” the letter states. “… The Select Committee would conduct hearings about the process and security of Montana elections and propose future changes if needed; including legislation.”

Full Article: GOP legislators push for special panel to probe Montana elections | 406 Politics |

Montana lawsuit by youth groups calls new Republican election laws ‘a cocktail of voter suppression measures’ | Sam Wilson/Helena Independent Record

A trio of groups advocating for young Montanans are challenging several changes to Montana’s election laws enacted by the Legislature, calling them “a cocktail of voter suppression measures that land heavily on the young.” The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Yellowstone County District Court, targets three bills passed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year. Two are already the subject of existing lawsuits: Senate Bill 169, which tightened voter identification requirements, including requiring that student IDs be augmented with another form of identification for in-person voting; and House Bill 176, which ended Election Day registration in Montana. House Bill 506 previously received attention for a series of last-minute changes to the bill by Republicans, who amended it to alter the process for drawing Montana’s new congressional district. Thursday’s lawsuit challenges a different aspect of that law, which prevents ballots from being mailed out to new voters in advance of their 18th birthdays.

Full Article: Lawsuit by Montana youth groups calls new Republican election laws ‘a cocktail of voter suppression measures’ | 406 Politics |

Montana: How G.O.P. Laws Could Complicate Voting for Native Americans | Maggie Astor/The New York Times

 One week before the 2020 election, Laura Roundine had emergency open-heart surgery. She returned to her home on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with blunt instructions: Don’t go anywhere while you recover, because if you get Covid-19, you’ll probably die. That meant Ms. Roundine, 59, couldn’t vote in person as planned. Neither could her husband, lest he risk bringing the virus home. It wasn’t safe to go to the post office to vote by mail, and there is no home delivery here in Starr School — or on much of the reservation in northwestern Montana. The couple’s saving grace was Renee LaPlant, a Blackfeet community organizer for the Native American advocacy group Western Native Voice, who ensured that their votes would count by shuttling applications and ballots back and forth between their home and a satellite election office in Browning, one of two on the roughly 2,300-square-mile reservation. But under H.B. 530, a law passed this spring by the Republican-controlled State Legislature, that would not have been allowed. Western Native Voice pays its organizers, and paid ballot collection is now banned. “It’s taking their rights from them, and they still have the right to vote,” Ms. Roundine said of fellow Blackfeet voters who can’t leave their homes. “I wouldn’t have wanted that to be taken from me.”

Full Article: How G.O.P. Laws in Montana Could Complicate Voting for Native Americans – The New York Times

Montana firm connected to controversial review of Arizona election results | Arren Kimbel-Sannit/Daily Montanan

Observers of a Legislature-sponsored review and recount of election results in Arizona’s largest county alleged last week that “copies of voting system data” were sent to an unnamed lab in Montana with little explanation, according to a summary of notes from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, which sponsored the observers. The observation reads that on May 24, Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State working as a liaison from the state Senate, “confirmed that (the data) was sent to a lab in Montana” but “did not specify what security measures were in place, or what the lab in Montana will do with the data or how long it will be in possession of the copies.” Republican lawmakers in the Arizona Senate authorized an audit of election results and issued subpoenas for election systems from Maricopa County in April, encouraged by persistent but unfounded claims of voter fraud and impropriety by former President Donald Trump in the fallout of his loss — President Joe Biden defeated Trump by roughly 45,000 votes in the county, one of the country’s most populous. The review has been plagued by controversy, litigation and allegations of procedural errors and impropriety, though it has resulted in significant financial gains for the state GOP and boosted the political fortunes of current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and outspoken critic of the audit who recently announced her bid for governor of Arizona.

Full Article: Arizona election audit observer: County data could be under review at Montana lab – Daily Montanan

Montana Election Security Bill, Amended To Limit Who Can Handle Absentee Ballots, Headed To Governor | Kevin Trevellyan/MTPR

Legislation limiting who can handle absentee ballots during election season cleared the Montana Legislature Tuesday largely along party lines. An initially uncontroversial bill granting the secretary of state’s office rulemaking authority to boost election security was amended with the rule to prevent someone from turning in somebody else’s absentee ballot if they’re paid to do so. Sponsor and Ulm Republican Rep. Wendy McKamey said the provision is a needed voting safeguard. “We want to keep it as clear and transparent and uninfluenced by monies as possible,” Ulm said. Browning Democratic Rep. Tyson Running Wolf said the amendment prevents Indigenous get-out-the-vote groups from collecting ballots in rural tribal communities, disenfranchising residents who lack consistent access to mail service and polling places. “Ballot collection is the only way for many of the voters to make sure their vote is counted and voices are being heard,” Running Wolf said.

Full Article: Election Security Bill, Amended To Limit Who Can Handle Absentee Ballots, Headed To Governor | MTPR

Montana election law changes spark lawsuit | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

The Montana Democratic Party is attempting to block changes to voting rights laws signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The changes would create more stringent identification requirements for voters and end same-day voter registration in the state, which Montana voters approved on the 2004 ballot. The suit was filed in District Court in Yellowstone County shortly after Gianforte’s bill signing Monday and requested that a judge immediately bar Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen from enforcing the new laws. In its complaint, the Democratic Party argues that same-day voter registration has been “critical to protecting the voting rights of tens of thousands of Montanans.” It specifically cites testimony from legislative proceedings earlier this year highlighting the geographic and transportation challenges faced by rural, elderly, disabled and Native American voters — challenges the party maintains have been alleviated for the past 16 years by voters’ ability to register, update their voter information and cast a ballot in a single trip. Democrats also argue that more stringent identification requirements will burden college students and low-income voters. Under the new law, individuals without a government-issued photo ID or a Montana concealed carry permit must produce non-government photo ID plus a second identifying document, such as a utility bill, in order to register or to receive a ballot at the polls.

Full Article: Election law changes spark lawsuit | Montana Free Press

Montana Governor signs bills eliminating Election Day registration, tightening voter ID | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

Gov. Greg Gianforte has officially ended the state’s long-standing practice of allowing citizens to register to vote on Election Day, a change he said will help preserve the integrity of Montana’s elections, but that critics have decried as a blatant attack on voter rights. Under House Bill 176, which Gianforte signed into law Monday, Montana voters will now be required to register no later than noon on the day before an election. Gianforte also signed Senate Bill 169, meaning any voter who does not have a government-issued photo ID or a state concealed carry permit must produce two forms of identification in order to cast a ballot at the polls. Both bills passed the Legislature on largely party-line votes after months of heated testimony that made voting rules one of the more contested issues of the 2021 session. “Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation,” Gianforte said in a statement announcing the changes. “These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana’s elections for years to come.” The new laws were specifically requested by Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who was present at the bill signing. Jacobsen also released a statement Monday saying “voter ID and voter registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections.”

Full Article: Governor approves changes to election law

Montana: ‘Our best chance to make our voices heard’: Bill for Native American Voting Rights Act introduced in committee | Nora Mabie Great Falls Tribune

Introduced in committee on Wednesday, a Native American Voting Rights Act bill will generally revise election procedures on reservations to reduce barriers to voting in Indigenous communities. Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, House Bill 613 would require at least two permanent satellite election offices for each federally recognized tribe and require precinct polling place notices to include locations on reservations. It would also authorize the use of nontraditional addresses for voters. “This (bill) is very important in the respect that it’s really looking at ensuring our rights as citizens are not undercut,” said Stewart-Peregoy. Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice who worked closely with Stewart-Peregoy on the bill, said the HB 613 symbolizes progress. “This bill will do nothing but push us forward and make Montana one of the leaders in the United States in terms of Native voting rights. … For far too long, people in power have tried to silence the Native vote, and we think this is our best chance to make our voices heard,” he said. 

Full Article: Native American Voting Rights Act bill introduced in Montana

Montana GOP considers ending Election-Day voter registration | Arren Kimbreil-Sannit/Missoula Current

Legislative Republicans debuted the first of their “election integrity” proposals Friday with a bill to end Election-Day voter registration in Montana, which has been on the books since 2005. The bill’s sponsor, Florence Republican Sharon Greef, said it’s a necessary solution to the long lines and hours-long waits on voting day in the last and prior elections — and something that could reduce the burden on the county offices that oversee polling places. “One of our biggest problems is trying to run an election in a decent way that is organized when you still have people coming in to register to vote (on Election Day),” said Doug Ellis, the top elections official (as well as clerk, recorder, treasurer and superintendent) in Broadwater County, in support of the measure. But several opponents of the bill testified Thursday that the solution to administrative burden at the county elections level isn’t to restrict voting, especially if it means cutting off late registration the Friday before election day, as Greef is proposing.

Full Article: Montana GOP considers ending Election-Day voter registration ~ Missoula Current

Montana: Election Officials Back Option For All Mail Ballot General Election | MTPR

Officials in Montana’s second-most populated county support holding an all-mail ballot general election in November. Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman says voting by mail is the logical choice amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic. “We’ve worked closely with the Board of County Commissioners and think having an all-mail election would be a beneficial way to help ensure great voter turnout, help provide the best services we can while keeping everybody safe,” Seaman said. Clerks and recorders recently requested Gov. Steve Bullock allow counties the option of conducting an all-mail ballot general election. Wednesday, Bullock said he’d make a decision by the counties’ recommended Aug. 10 deadline. County elections officials made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail to avoid crowding and increased exposure to the coronavirus. Bullock agreed and every county opted for all-mail ballot elections.

Montana: County clerks call for general election by mail | Holly Michels/Helena Independent Record

With fewer than 100 days until Montanans cast ballots, the clerks who run the state’s elections are asking the governor to allow counties the option to conduct the vote by mail. In a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock dated July 24, the Montana Association of Clerk & Recorders/Election Administrators and the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) said that given the novel coronavirus’ spread in Montana and the rapidly approaching Nov. 3 general election, they want to make a decision by Aug. 10. Their letter included a formal request for the mail-ballot option, with an allowance for in-person voting and other adaptions. “Given we are unsure of how long the pandemic will last, Montana’s Clerk & Recorders/Election Administrators want to (and absolutely should be) prepared for the worst, especially given that elections require numerous election judges and enormous groups of people,” reads the letter. Under a directive from Bullock, all 56 counties chose to hold the June 2 primary by mail. Generally Montanans can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, with absentee turnout about 73% in the last election. In June, everyone registered and active as a voter received a ballot by mail with a pre-stamped envelope to return it.

Montana: Native American tribes win injunction on vote collection law | Bill Theobald/The Fulcrum

A Montana judge has blocked new state restrictions on the collecting of others’ ballots, a victory for Native American tribes that say their members rely on the help. The law probably violates the tribal members’ right to vote because it would make it especially difficult for them to make sure their own ballots got from reservations and other remote areas to election offices, District Judge Jessica Fehr of Yellowstone County said Tuesday in putting a hold on the requirements. Her injunction, while not final, is nonetheless the latest voting rights victory for people in Indian Country, who say too many election rules disregard their special circumstances and amount to suppression. It’s also the latest turn in the generally partisan battle over so-called ballot harvesting. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued on behalf of several tribes in March, challenging a state law passed in 2017 and endorsed by statewide referendum the next year. It says caregivers, family members and acquaintances can collect no more than six ballots in an election. Proponents say such limits prevent election fraud by preventing partisan operatives from conducting mass collections of mail-in ballots — potentially from both friendly and unfriendly precincts.

Montana: Judge blocks Montana from enforcing absentee ballot law | Associated Press

A Montana judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocks the state from enforcing a voter-approved law that restricts the collection of absentee ballots during elections. Tuesday’s ruling from District Judge Jessica Fehr came after the Billings-based judge temporarily halted the Ballot Interference Protection Act two weeks before the June primary election. The law passed by voter referendum in 2018 limits one person to turning in a maximum of six absentee ballots. Fehr wrote the law would “significantly suppress vote turnout by disproportionately harming rural communities.” She said Native Americans in rural tribes across the seven Indian reservation located in Montana would be particularly harmed.

Montana: Lawmakers get update on Native American voting in all-mail primary | Jonathon Ambarian/KTVH

On Friday, a state legislative committee got an update on how Montana’s all-mail primary election went in Indian Country. The State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee wrapped up three days of online meetings Friday. Because of concerns about COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock gave Montana counties the option to switch to all-mail ballots for the June 2 election – and all 56 counties took that option. On Friday, the committee heard from four election administrators from counties with large Indian populations – Dulcie Bear Don’t Walk of Big Horn County, Tammy Williams of Blaine County, Katie Harding of Lake County and Joan Duffield of Rosebud County. All four counties had voter turnouts at or below the Montana average in the primary, with Big Horn County having the lowest turnout in the state at 35.4%. However, administrators said there were some positive signs for tribal turnout. Bear Don’t Walk said 25% to 35% turnout is typical for a primary in Big Horn County, and that about 44% of those who were mailed a ballot this year returned them. Williams said Blaine County estimated about 30% turnout in reservation areas, but that overall turnout was again on the high end of what was expected. According to Duffield, turnout in Rosebud County’s Lame Deer precinct was 20% this year, compared to 11% and 10% in the 2016 and 2018 primaries.

Montana: Mail ballot election goes well, but a general election by mail isn’t certain in Montana | Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette

Montana’s first mail-ballot primary election set records for participation and the went fairly well, but it would take a fall emergency to set up a mail ballot general election. That’s because there’s no language in Montana law supporting a mail ballot general election. The exception would be another order by Gov. Steve Bullock giving counties the option of a mail ballot election to protect public health. “It is too early to tell what, if any, steps will need to be taken in the general election to protect the public’s health, while protecting the right to vote,” said Marissa Perry, Bullock’s communications director. “As he did in issuing the primary directive, Gov. Bullock will consult with county election administrators, public health experts, emergency management professionals, the Secretary of State, and political leaders from both parties to determine the safest way to proceed once more is known about how the virus could impact communities in the fall.” More to the point, said state Sen. Doug Cary, R-Billings, the governor’s executive order that triggered the mail ballot primary has a July expiration date. Bullock would need a new, 120-day order to raise the option of a mail ballot general election. The Bullock administration said Thursday that the governor’s current emergency order will last as long as the president’s. The normal, 120-day expiration rule doesn’t apply.

Montana: Challenge To Ballot Collection Limit Moves Forward | Kevin Trevellyan/MTPR

A Montana district court will move forward with a challenge against a state law limiting the number of ballots a person can deliver on others’ behalf. As of now the law is currently blocked ahead of the Jun. 2 primary. On May 29, Judge Jessica Fehr of the Yellowstone County District Court sided with Native American tribes, Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote in denying the state’s motion in support of the Ballot Interference Prevention Act, or BIPA. BIPA caps the number of ballots a person or group can drop off for someone else at six. The law also requires people to sign a form letting election officials know they’re dropping off another person’s ballot. Lillian Alvernaz with the ALCU of Montana is representing the tribes and advocacy groups. She says BIPA significantly limits the voting rights of people on rural reservations.

Montana: State Supreme Court: Ballots Must Be Received By Election Day | Kevin Trevellyan/MTPR

The Montana Supreme Court today overruled a lower court order and restored the state’s Jun. 2 mail-in ballot receipt deadline for the upcoming primary. The high court’s order means voters must get their mail-in ballots to their local election office or other drop off locations by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Attorney General Tim Fox asked the state supreme court to address Montana’s ballot receipt deadline the morning of May 27 on behalf of Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. In its five-two decision on May 27, the state Supreme Court’s majority says it retained the ballot receipt deadline to avoid voter confusion and disruption of election administration. Instructions included with primary ballots tell voters to return their envelopes by that deadline.

Montana: Battle over ballot postmark deadline, now set at June 2, continues | Holly Michels/Missoulian

In dueling filings in different courts, the secretary of state and two Democratic groups clashed over an extended deadline for ballots to arrive at elections offices. The action comes a week before the June 2 primary election, which is being held mostly by mail because of the dangers posed by the novel coronavirus. Late last week following a lawsuit by the Montana Democratic Party (MDP) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), a Billings judge ordered that the existing 8 p.m. deadline for mailed ballots to be received by county elections offices would “significantly suppress voter turnout.” Judge Donald Harris extended the deadline so that ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by June 8 will be counted. The secretary of state immediately challenged that order Friday in Yellowstone County District Court, and on Tuesday Attorney General Tim Fox filed a writ of supervisory control with the Montana Supreme Court. In it, they ask for the high court to stay the lower court’s opinion without waiting for the District Court’s ruling on their appeal.

Montana: Attorney general challenges mail-in ballot deadline | Associated Press

A court ruling that allows election ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by June 2 is being challenged by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. Previously only ballots that arrived by the date of the election could be counted. State District Court Judge Donald Harris on Friday temporarily suspended the state law that said ballots must be received in a county election office by 8 p.m. on election day. Now, ballots that are postmarked by June 2 can still be counted as long as they arrive by the following Monday, the judge said. That Monday, June 8, also is the deadline for receipt of federal write-in ballots for military and overseas voters. The primary is being held by mail because of the coronavirus. Fox, who is running for governor in the Republican primary, said the last-minute suspension could have a negative impact on Montana voters, Lee Newspapers of Montana reporte d. He asked in a court filing for the ruling to be put on hold and for the dispute to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Montana: 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters | Jonathon Ambarian/Missoula Current

On Friday, election offices around Montana began sending out ballots for the June primary election, as they do every two years. However, there was a big difference this year: Mail ballots weren’t going just to those who asked for them, but to all active registered voters. In March, Gov. Steve Bullock directed that counties could decide to hold the primary election by mail, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. All 56 counties took that option. That means traditional local polling places will not be open, though people will be able to vote in person at county election offices. Election officials estimate about 600,000 ballots were mailed out across the state on Friday. About 94,000 more registered voters are considered “inactive,” and will need to contact officials in order to receive a ballot. In Lewis and Clark County, about 40,500 active voters are having ballots mailed to them. Audrey McCue, the county’s elections supervisor, said they have usually had 50% to 60% of their voters request absentee ballots, so it was not as big of a change as it might have been. “That number has gone up, but it’s not a drastic increase for us,” she said.

Montana: Governor: Counties can choose to hold all-mail primary | Holly Michels/Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, under the powers of an emergency declaration he made earlier this month, told counties on Wednesday they can choose to conduct an all-mail election in June. He also expanded early voting. The moves come as Montana is dealing with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which had hit 53 cases statewide by midafternoon Wednesday. Bullock is also requiring counties to implement measures to ensure social distancing during voter registration and voting. Bullock has previously closed public K-12 schools and some business where people gather. Some candidates in the 2020 election had called on the state to move to an all-mail primary, which is June 2. Bullock’s order does not go that far, but allows the option should counties choose to do so. Montanans can also request absentee ballots to vote by mail.

Montana: Officials advocate for voting by mail as COVID-19 calls election processes into question | Tom Lutey/Billings Gazette

Shifting to a mail-ballot only primary might be the safest option for Montana counties, said State Senate President Scott Sales, who is asking Gov. Steve Bullock to apply emergency powers to make it possible. Sales, a Bozeman Republican, said mail ballots would protect from coronavirus Montana seniors who are not only reliable voters, but who also staff polling stations as volunteers. Sales is also one of six GOP candidates for secretary of state, which oversees elections. “The people who come to vote on election day are my age or older, They’re the older generation. They’re the most reliable voters and our election judges and the people who work at the polls are even older than that,” Sales said. “They’re typically in their 70s and 80s. And whether you think this thing is going to get a lot of legs, or not, that is the most vulnerable segment of our society, those folks in that age group.” Sales made his pitch for a primary mail election on Monday. Tuesday, state Sen. Democrat Bryce Bennett, who is also a secretary of state candidate, called for Bullock to make a mail-ballot primary happen.  The decision whether to switch to an all-mail primary should be up to individual counties, Sales said, but the governor would have to apply emergency powers to give counties the option. Sales said he spoke to Bullock, a Democrat, about the decision after consulting with legislators and county-level election officials.

Montana: State puts $1.3M toward updating county voting machines | Holly K. Michaels/Helena Independent Record

The Montana Secretary of State’s office announced Tuesday more than $1.3 million in money for counties to update their voting equipment. The money comes from a federal Help American Vote Act and is matched with county funds. Counties will be able to purchase new Express Vote voting equipment with the funding. “This is a big step in the right direction for counties to upgrade election technology that strengthens Montana’s election security ahead of 2020,” Secretary of State Corey Stapleton said in a press release announcing the funding. The new equipment is meant to ease voting access for people with disabilities. However, at a meeting of the State Administrative and Veterans Affairs hearing Tuesday, Beth Brenneman, attorney for Disability Rights Montana, said that because of how the Express Vote machines function, they may present some issues for voters who are blind. Joel Peden, advocacy coordinator with the Montana Independent Living Project, voiced more concerns to the interim committee about access to voting for those with disabilities. He said some machines, either new or old, don’t provide enough privacy for voters to feel comfortable their vote is secret.

Montana: ExpressVote Voting Machines Could Debut In Montana This November | MTPR

The Montana Secretary of State’s office plans to sign-off on a new touchscreen voting system designed for voters with disabilities that could be used at county polling sites as early as this November. The ExpressVote system resembles a touchscreen desktop computer or ATM. Voters insert a ballot, scroll through pages of candidates or initiatives and make their picks, and then hit print. The system includes audio, visual, and other aids designed to help individuals with disabilities vote. A separate machine does the vote counting. The Secretary of State’s Office and system developer ES&S ran demonstrations of the device Monday in the state Capitol ahead of an official certification event scheduled Tuesday. Staff with the Secretary’s office say the ExpressVote system is replacing an outdated device from the early 2000s that was also designed for people with disabilities. The state is using $750,000 of a $3 million federal grant to buy the equipment, with counties chipping in matching funds if they want to take part in the upgrade.

Montana: Stapleton nixes upgrade to voter registration system | The Fulcrum

The modernization of Montana’s voter registration system won’t happen in time for next year’s elections, because the state’s top election administrator has concluded the new software cannot be installed and its security assured in time. The decision was made by Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who has something of a vested interest in his decision. He’s a leading GOP candidate for the state’s singular and reliably Republican seat in the House of Representatives in 2020. But Stapleton was pressed to make the decision by the association of the state’s county clerks, who said the system in place for 15 years was good enough for one more election. “It would seem more reasonable to begin this immense change-over outside of a presidential cycle, which could be one of the biggest in our lifetimes,” they told the secretary of state. “The current project development timeline is simply too aggressive and stands to put the election process in Montana at risk.”

Montana: After elections administrators voice concern, new voter system won’t roll out until 2021 | Holly K. Michels/The Missoulian

The secretary of state is backing away from plans to implement a new election system for Montana before 2020 after elections administrators around the state raised concerns about the aggressive timeline. In a July 24 letter to the head of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton wrote that “it does not appear to me that we will be able to implement a new voter registration system this year.” County elections administrators had previously told Stapleton they had “grave concerns” over a plan to replace the existing MontanaVotes system with a new ElectMT system before 2020, as reported by the Montana Free Press. The 2020 elections are expected to see the highest voter turnout in Montana history — it’s a presidential election year, with two federal offices and all the statewide elected officials up for election, plus other state-level, legislative and local races, and ballot initiatives. “The whole association is extremely excited with the decision to wait and not roll it out in the 2020 election,” said Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders President Stephanie Verhasselt, who is the Richland County clerk and recorder. “We do believe when the new system comes out, once we get it working and everyone trained, I think it will have a lot of features we like.”

Montana: Secretary of State Corey Stapleton plans to implement new election software in 2020. Election officials worry that’s too fast. | Alex Sakariassen/Montana Free Press

County elections officials are expressing “grave concerns” over Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s plan to implement a new statewide election system in time for the 2020 elections. Stapleton’s plan calls for Montana counties to begin transitioning from the state’s decade-old Montana Votes election system to a new suite of election software as early as January. Stapleton’s office inked an exclusive $2 million contract with South Dakota-based information technology company BPro on April 30. Missoula County Chief Administrative Officer Vickie Zeier said the secretary’s staff in early June assured county officials that a final determination on the state’s readiness for the transition will not be made until December.  However, emails acquired through a public-records request show Stapleton’s office set its sights on implementing the new software in time for the 2020 elections months ago. In a June 20 letter to Stapleton, the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders (MACR) called that timeline “very worrisome,” adding, “our suggested implementation goal would be 2021.”