In an advertisement funded by his office using state dollars, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is urging Montanans who vote by mail to invalidate their votes by signing them. In a commercial that has run at least a few times including right before last week’s State of the Union address, Montana’s top election official tells Montana voters to “always remember to sign” their ballots.
This is terrible advice and, if followed, would likely lead to the vote being disqualified.
As anyone who has voted in a Montana election recently knows, mail ballots are sent back in two envelopes: a secrecy envelope containing the actual ballot and an external envelope signed by the voter. The instructions for how to vote by mail, located on the Secretary of State’s web site, are very clear and tell voters to place their ballot on the SECRECY envelope and that when voting, “DO not make any identifying marks on your ballot.”
In Montana, a ballot with “any identifying marks” must be rejected. From the MCA 13-15-201:
(8)(a) A ballot is invalid if:
(i)problems with the ballot have not been resolved pursuant to 13-13-245;
(ii)any identifying marks are placed on the ballot by the elector, which must result in the immediate rejection of the ballot without notice to the elector; or
Surely, the state’s chief election officer should know the laws governing our elections and have some vague sense of the importance of a secret ballot.
Stapleton’s advice is almost magnificently stupid, given that a) he oversees Montana’s elections and should know the rules governing them, b) he has spent the better part of the past year claiming voter fraud related to mail-in ballots, and c) he’s actually using state resources to give Montana voters terrible, terrible advice.
When I spoke to the Secretary of State’s office, I was told that Stapleton’s suggestion was meant to indicate that voters should sign the secrecy envelope, but after his efforts to demonize county elections officials with allegations of fraud, Stapleton should be a lot clearer about his language.
In the last two statewide elections in Montana, absentee ballots accounted for almost two-thirds of all the ballots cast, a number that is sure to grow as voters opt for the convenience of voting from their own homes. Unfortunately, Montana has a Secretary of State so ill-equipped for the task of his job that he can’t even get his self-promoting videos produced and aired at our expense correct.