While you’re enjoying some self-isolation time, we’ve got a short interview with Secretary of State candidate Bryce Bennett for you to enjoy. I interviewed Bennett on March 1, so we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss his plans to ensure voting access during the coronavirus, but hopefully, we’ll have another chance to talk to him soon.
During our interview, Bennet discussed his work in the Legislature, his plans to increase voter access and registration, and his plans to restore professionalism to the Secretary of State’s office after Corey Stapleton’s tenure.
The podcast should be available wherever you listen to podcasts shortly, and you can hear it here as well. If you want to catch up and subscribe to all of our podcasts, be sure to check them out here or search for “The Montana PostCast” wherever you listen.
Bennett’s passion for voting rights is at the core of his campaign, and he touched on that idea when I asked about his experience in the Legislature. Describing a 2017 bill he passed through the Legislature that fixed Montana’s vote by mail system, Bennet argued that it “fundamentally changed the way our democracy works”:
And because of that, in the 2018 election, seventy two thousand Montanans got a ballot who otherwise wouldn’t have. And I think that’s fundamentally changed the way that our democracy works. So, I mean, that’s the great passion in my life. That’s what I brought to the legislature. I’m proud of the work that I’ve been able to do to advance our democracy. Certainly proud of the work I’ve been able to do to fight the voter suppression efforts that have been pushed by out-of-touch politicians who are trying to make it harder for Montanans to cast a ballot. So that’s what I brought to the legislature. And certainly that’s where my heart is.
While we discussed the current Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, Bennett highlighted the need to change the toxic work environment at the office:
I think that anybody that’s watching it closely knows exactly what’s happening, because as somebody who’s been on the state administration, Veterans Affairs Committee for all the time that I’ve been in the legislature, the committee in the legislature that has direct oversight of the secretary’s office, I have had a chance to build a lot of connections with folks in that office. And they will tell me off the record all the time that this office is in disarray. I mean, people are not leaving because they’re cutting and providing, you know, efficiencies. I mean, people are leaving because of the toxic work environment that has been built over there. And that is very, very unfortunate.
Bennett also addressed the need to improve access for native voters:
Absolutely. I mean, there are there’s a number of different things that need to be done. But I think the primary one that needs to be addressed right away is to make our satellite voting locations permanent. Right now, they’re just a product of a lawsuit and a secretary of state on a whim could just wipe them away with a pen stroke. I think that’s a very scary place for Native American friends to be in. So I want to make sure that we make those permanent. And we also provide some of the resources to ensure that they have the same staffing resources that you would get when you go to any county seat to get a ballot, to replace a ballot, to register to vote.
When we discussed what Bennett sees as the difference between himself and the Republican candidates in the race, he argued he will better protect voter rights and the voice of Montana’s citizens:
I do think that the differences in this race are very stark on the democracy front. We’ve got folks that have taken every opportunity they can to put barriers between Montanans and their constitutional right to vote. I, on the other hand, have been able to pass bills that make sure that all Montanans, not, you know, Democrats, Republicans or independents, but all Montanans have an ability to cast their ballot and have their voice heard. I mean, when it comes to campaign finance laws, you know, I’ve got opponents that have colluded with dark money groups, you know, people that have worked for Americans for Prosperity to try to make it harder for Montanans to understand who’s funding our elections. You know, I was one of the people that helped pass the DISCLOSE Act in the state to ensure that every penny that is spent in our elections is accountable and transparent to the people of this state.