Montana Politics

Brad Johnson: All Sound Bite, No Substance on Elections. His Office Mismanaged 2006 Election.

Jay's got the lead on Brad Johnson absurdly taking
credit for a Legislative audit that suggested the need for serious
reform in election procedure in Montana, but I thought I would add
a few notes from the long audit document. It's important to note
that the audit present a series of steps the Secretary of State
needs to take to improve elections in Montana, not, as Johnson
calls it, "a victory."

Brad has a funny idea of what victory means. 
The audit is a strong criticism of the failures of his office and a renunciation of his claims that same day registration increased fraud. The audit is a clear indication that Johnson mismanaged the 2006 election, something that county election supervisors make clear.

Specific failures of the Secretary of State noted below the


Same Day Registration Mismanaged by
Johnson's Office


 42% of county election supervisors say the
SOS Office did a "poor" or "very poor" job providing guidance for
late registration

Poorly Trained Staff Fail to Exclude Felons and the Dead from
Voting Rolls

Our analysis identified exceptions
including 223 eligible voters who were considered incarcerated
felons and 36 eligible voters who are deceased. Further analysis
showed these numbers were not accurate because the data from the
DOC and DPHHS was outdated. The felon data had not been updated
since August of 2006, nearly three months prior to the last general
election and the deceased data had not been updated since November
of 2005, a year prior to the last general election.

We notified the SOS office its data was
not current. According to the SOS office, the staff members who
were most familiar with SVRS operations left the office without
documenting instructions on how the system data is updated. (pg. 9)

Told of the Error, They Still Made Mistakes

In February and March of 2007, the office
had updated the DPHHS and DOC data. Once data was current, we
re-analyzed the voter data. Our results still showed 57
incarcerated felons and 37 deceased individuals eligible to vote.
Based on this, the potential exists that a deceased voter record
could be used to vote, but our testing did not identify evidence
showing deceased individuals or incarcerated felons had voted. (pg.

The SOS Lacks a Statewide Data Integrity System for Voters

We recommend the Secretary of State’s office work with
counties to develop a statewide data integrity improvement plan
addressing the updating and maintenance of voter information and
uniform implementation of SVRS controls throughout the state. (pg.

Management of the SVRS System Has No Accountability

SOS Elections Bureau staff have been granted system access allowing
them to assign administrative privileges used to change or add
voter information. The ability to change and update local voter
information should only reside with county staff.

Two third-party vendors and one former
employee have access allowing them to change, remove, or add voter
information (SOS has since deactivated these accounts.

Twenty-five accounts exist without a state
assigned ID and seventy-five accounts had been assigned an ID but
to a generic name. Generic accounts do not maintain any individual
responsibility. If an individual removed or changed voter
information, there would be no accountability because the account
cannot be traced back to a specific individual). (pg. 11-12)

SOS Error Delayed Voters at Registration

On November 7, 2006, Election Day, another
outage occurred. This outage could have been prevented by ITSD
installing a network patch released in August 2006, but the patch
was never installed. As with the previous outage, ITSD also did not
implement the backup system. This outage likely affected some of
the hundreds of voters waiting in line at county courthouses around
the state. In our survey of county election officials we asked
several questions relating to system outages on or around the 2006
General Elections. Around 64 percent of county election officials
reported these outages had a negative impact on their operations.
(pg. 16)

Voter Information Was Inconsistent

Our Election Day observations indicate
widespread disparities in the types of voter information being made
available in the state’s polling places. The most consistency
was seen with sample ballots, which were available in nearly 85
percent of polling places, and general voting procedures (including
provisional voting), which were available in around three quarters
of poling places. For most of the other main information categories
outlined in HAVA, less than half of polling places were in
compliance with legal requirements.

Of particular concern was the fact that
only six percent of polling places publicly posted information on
contacting election officials with complaints about violations of
voting rights. (pg. 22)

No Uniformity About Absentee Balloting

Survey responses show disparities in how county election officials
are understanding and/ or implementing elections laws in relation
to absentee voters. For all three scenarios presented to the county
officials, there are significant differences in how different
counties have been instructing poll workers relative to absentee
voters. Responses showed very little uniformity in how poll workers
had been instructed to deal with different situations, suggesting
there is considerable risk voters in different counties will
receive different treatment at the polls and experience different
outcomes in terms of the voting process. (pg. 50)

Johnson Could Spend Less Money Promoting Himself and Spend More
to Improve Voter Education About Registration

Our survey of county election officials provided some indication of
where the SOS office could make some relatively simple changes in
the way it provides information on late registration. County
officials identified better public information regarding
registration prior to Election Day as one way of helping counties
deal with late registration. SOS could prioritize public
information efforts in future election cycles to emphasize the
convenience of registering prior to Election Day. Although the SOS
office cannot use HAVA funding to support public education efforts
relating to late registration, the office has a prominent public
role leading up to Election Day and could use the many
opportunities available to them to communicate information on late
registration procedures to the general public. (pg. 30)

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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