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.
County election officials on the call generally agreed.
Ruth Baker is the president of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders. She says that Stapleton has changed how he talks about voter fraud and illegal ballots.
“The choice of words used has shifted a little bit from ‘fraud’ to ‘misconduct.’ The more information we receive and how the process works, the better we understand what goes on. And I think that is what happened,” Baker said.
Since Stapleton, a Republican, won the secretary of state race last year, he has been at odds with a majority of Montana’s county election officials because of his concerns of possible voter fraud.
Clerks and Recorders Association President Baker says that after an initial rocky start to the relationship, things are getting better between the secretary of state and county election officials. She says Stapleton didn’t fully understanding the state’s election process coming into the job, and that was the root of some of the conflict.
Baker says that as this survey was conducted over the last few months, everyone started to get on the same page, looking for ways to improve the state's election system.
Corey Stapleton was not available for an interview Tuesday. His staff rejected several media requests to make Tuesday’s meeting with clerks and records public.
The secretary of state will meet again with members of the Clerks and Recorders Association next Tuesday, December 5, in Helena. They’ll continue to talk about their survey results and look for ways to improve the state’s election system.