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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Three complaints about misdirecting voters dismissed by the state’s political watchdog

Jeff Mangan is Montana's commissioner of political practices.
Corin Cates-Carney
/
Montana Public Radio
Jeff Mangan is Montana's commissioner of political practices.

Montana’s top political watchdog has dismissed three complaints filed by Montana’s Secretary of State alleging campaign practice violations. The subjects of these complaints are three nonprofit groups that have recently won a lawsuit against the state office.

The Secretary of State’s office alleges the groups Forward Montana, MontPIRG and ACLU of the Montana Foundation misdirected voters on where to mail their voter registration applications. State law requires third party organizations to direct voters to mail their applications to local county elections offices. The Secretary’s office included a photo of a Forward Montana drop box for voters to deposit applications as evidence.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan says the Secretary of State’s complaint is unsubstantiated as the organizations did not give any instructions on where to mail applications. Forward Montana responded to the complaint that all applications deposited in its drop boxes are sent to county officials.

Mangan called the state’s complaints frivolous, saying they could have been resolved informally through email or phone call, and did not rise to a level of potential violation.

In response, Secretary of State spokesperson Richie Melby said the commissioner wanted the Secretary to gather more evidence before filing the complaint, but it’s the responsibility of the commissioner to investigate alleged violations.

Melby said complaints should no longer be handled informally in order to have a record of campaign practice violations when courts ask for evidence of election fraud. A judge recently struck down new voting laws as unconstitutional, but the state has defended the laws as necessary to prevent fraud.

Mangan says his office keeps a record of all informal and formal complaints.

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Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.