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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Secretary Of State Clarifies Illegal Voting Allegations

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton.
Corey Stapleton

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton pushed back against allegations Thursday that his office is claiming more than 300 cases of voter fraud in the May special election. The Republican Secretary of State says any reports claiming he made such allegations are false.

In July, the Republican Secretary of State testified before the State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee saying that hundreds of ballot signatures were illegal in last May’s special congressional election.

The statement came in the context of urging lawmakers to not dismiss the possibility of voter fraud in Montana, just because it hasn’t been reported.

"We all have to take a real hard look," Stapleton said. "We’ve never had voter fraud in Montana this century. Nobody. Ask yourself, if we had no DUIs, no shoplifting, if we had no sexual assaults, we would say that we don’t have those things,  or would we say that we don’t have voter fraud because we haven’t pursued it or we don’t understand … In the special election for example, over three hundred signatures were illegal, statewide."

After that statement the Democratic Chair of the SAVA Committee Sue Malek sent a formal request to the Stapleton asking for more information about the number of fraudulent votes in each county, the reason those votes were considered fraudulent, and what legal actions have been taken in counties against alleged fraud.

Thursday, in response to that request the Secretary’s Chief of Staff Christi Jacobsen appeared before the SAVA committee to read a letter from Stapleton.

The letter said Senator Malek's request incorrectly cited an article from the Associated Press reporting that Stapleton claims 360 cases of voter fraud in Montana. 

While the AP article never directly says the Secretary of State alleges hundreds of cases of voter fraud, it does say Stapleton asserts more than 360 illegal ballots were cast in the last statewide election.

The Secretary of State’s office uses the terms "illegal" or "mismatched" ballot signatures interchangeably. It also defines "illegal" differently than "fraud," which is much more serious and requires proving intent.

Anthony Johnstone, an associate professor of constitutional and election law at the University of Montana, agrees with the secretary of state’s  interpretation of those terms. He says ballots can be illegal, but not fraudulent, and those terms should never be confused.

County election administrators have said statements by the Secretary of State about potential fraud in Montana unnecessarily cast doubt upon the state’s electoral process.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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