Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton plans to replace the state’s voter registration system and pay for improvements to its election cyber security programs with a $3 million federal grant. The money is part of $380 million in grants President Donald Trump budgeted for election security across the nation against a backdrop of threats from Russia and others. Montana is putting up $150,000 as a 5 percent match for the grant. Stapleton outlined the plan in a letter to members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a group that administers the grants, sent out Wednesday. The state received the money, but the program required Stapleton provide details on how it would be spent.
Articles about voting issues in Montana.
The Montana Democratic Party, assisted by a prestigious international law firm, is taking Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton to court over approving signatures that allowed the Green Party to qualify for the general election. Green Party spokesperson Danielle Breck said the Montana Democrats have a date in Helena District Court on Tuesday afternoon. “The Montana Democratic Party, along with a couple of individuals, have filed suit against the Secretary of State saying that 180 of the more than 7,300 signatures that he validated of the more than 10,000 we turned in, are not valid, and therefore we should be removed from the ballot,” said Breck. “Tomorrow (Tuesday) there is a hearing to show cause and the Democrats have to show cause to move forward with the case.”
The Montana Democratic Party failed to identify the issues and candidates that benefited from its spending of about $375,000 on the 2016 general election, the state’s top election watchdog found. Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan also found that the party failed to include Supreme Court candidate Dirk Sandefur on a list of candidates it was supporting. He referred the case to the Lewis and Clark County attorney for potential prosecution, but his Dec. 5 finding said such cases are usually settled with a civil fine.
Montana: At Secretary of State’s behest, county elections delves into ballot rejection process | The Missoulian
The May special election to find Montana’s new congressional representative just keeps coming back into play. Tuesday, Missoula County Elections Administrator Rebecca Connors told the County Commission about her office’s survey into their handling of rejected ballots. The survey was done at the request of Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who, according to Connors asked the same of each Montana county elections office. And if the local offices didn’t want to, his office would. Stapleton’s request for the surveys came after an email exchange between him and Connors that was made public after the commissioners decided to respond. In the emails, Stapleton accused Missoula County of not taking voter fraud seriously and asked “why 91 illegal signatures on mail ballots are once again going to be silently set aside on the shelf of indifference.”
Montana’s secretary of state said Tuesday that he’s looked into whether there was election fraud during this May’s special election and hasn’t seen any evidence showing a coordinated effort to cast mismatched, or illegal, signatures on ballots. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton raised the issue of potential voter fraud in August. At a meeting with state lawmakers, he said that just because it hasn’t happened in Montana before doesn’t mean it’s not happening now. But in a Tuesday afternoon phone conference with clerks, Stapleton said that after examining results from a survey of illegal ballots from the May 25 special election, he now believes Montana has a healthy election system that could use some improvement.
Montana: Donors once again much more limited in contributions to Montana candidates | Associated Press
Montana’s limits on direct contributions to political campaigns are justified in trying to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption while still allowing candidates to raise enough money to run a campaign, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The decision overturned a ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell, who in May 2016 said the limits enacted by voters in 1994 restricted political speech. “This lawsuit … sought to open the floodgates of money in Montana elections by making it easier for out-of-state corporations to buy officeholders,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. “I’m glad the federal courts upheld Montana’s limits on money in elections. “For a century in Montana, winning an election for state office has meant going door to door and meeting face to face with everyday voters: democracy at its best. Today, we’re one step closer to keeping it that way. Elections should be decided by ‘we the people’ — not by corporations, millionaires, or wealthy special interests buying more television ads,” he said.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton said in a letter read by his chief of staff to a legislative committee Thursday that he never made any allegations of 360 cases of voter fraud in the May 25 special election and that media reports were incorrect. “I made no such statement,” Stapleton said in the Sept. 14 letter to Sen. Sue Malek, chair of the State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee. And he added he would “ask you to correct the public record to the extent that you can.” Malek had invited Stapleton to the meeting saying she wanted him to come and provide more information on the “360 cases of voter fraud” that he discussed at SAVA’s July 20 meeting.
The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a judgment against a former state lawmaker from Bozeman who was fined $68,000 for having been found to have accepted and failed to report illegal corporate contributions. The court’s ruling affirmed a Lewis and Clark County jury decision in April 2016 against former Republican Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman. The civil case was brought against Wittich, then a state senator, by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, who at the time was Jonathan Motl. After a five-day trial, 10 of 12 jurors found that Wittich violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 state Senate campaign for District 35 by accepting nearly $20,000 in in-kind contributions from the National Right to Work Committee.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s allegations of voter fraud in Montana has widened a rift with elections officers across the state, some of whom want the elections chief to dial back his rhetoric. As they prepare to meet for their annual convention Tuesday, elections officials are hoping to rebuild relations with Stapleton, whose combative style has left some put off. “We are hoping for better communications with the secretary of state, and I’m hopeful that will happen in the near future,” said Regina Plettenberg, the election administrator from Ravalli County and president of the Montana Association of Clerk & Recorders and Election Administrators. Tensions have been building for months amid turmoil within Stapleton’s administration. Stapleton has been without a communications director since May. Two weeks ago, Stapleton’s director of elections and voter services, Derek Oestreicher, abruptly departed after a falling out that neither side wants to discuss publicly. And on Monday, a former deputy chief of staff, Stephanie Hess, began working for the state Auditor’s office.
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.