Corey Stapleton Uses State Resources to Suppress the Vote Again, Lies About June Primary

Photo from MT SoS web page

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton told Montanans this morning that the June primary election will be an all-mail ballot, a flatly incorrect claim that will likely suppress votes.

From his Sunday morning e-mail, sent to hundreds of thousands of Montana e-mail addresses:

For the second time in three years, the Governor has pushed for all-mail ballot elections—last time by amendatory veto, this time by using his emergency powers during this health crisis.

For the first time in Montana history, the June primary election will eliminate in-person voting locations (emphasis added) and be conducted primarily through the U.S. Postal service. Congress also testified last week, though, the U.S. Postal service may go bankrupt by June. So stay tuned, things could get interesting.

It is absolutely untrue that Governor Bullock’s order eliminates in-person voting. I know that because I interviewed Raph Graybill, Governor Bullock’s chief legal counsel on Thursday night, and he assured me that in-person voting will be available for 30 days even in counties that opt for an all-mail ballot.

It’s possible that Stapleton didn’t ask Graybill, though, given the spanking Bullock’s attorney gave him last year.

But you would think Stapleton could at least read the order. As the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported:

Bullock’s directive specifically allows counties the choice to conduct mail ballot elections and expand early voting for the June 2 primary; provides school districts with additional time to choose to conduct mail ballot elections; and requires counties to establish, implement and enforce social distancing policies at polling locations, designated drop-off locations or other public-facing portions of facilities involved in voting.

The directive also says even if a county decides to hold an all-mail June primary election, people can still vote in person during the 30-day early voting window.

Stapleton’s latest folly is more than another piece of evidence that he should never hold elected office again. It could well amount to voter suppression. As Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Bryce Bennett noted on Facebook:

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton just released a newsletter telling thousands of Montanans that we won’t have any in-person voting for the June primary. That’s just not true.

Even in the counties going to all vote by mail, there will be opportunities to receive, replace, and cast a ballot at county election offices. There will be strict social distancing rules at these locations for everyone who needs to vote in person.

This is voter suppression and it’s wrong. The top elections official in the state telling people that they won’t be able to vote in person AT ALL will confuse voters and make it harder for Montanans to have their voices heard.

Frustrating as this latest failure from Stapleton has been, it does remind me of what might be my favorite story from his tenure in office, when Stapleton used state funds to produce a PSA encouraging people to invalidate their own ballots—and then threatened me with legal action when I shared it.

No, really.

Stapleton, who has been entirely absent while Governor Bullock and Montana’s hardworking county elections officials have been putting in the work to make June’s primary run smoothly, should just stay in his lane as this crisis unfolds. Stapleton, who pioneered the idea of public official telework well before the COVID-19 outbreak hit, should have the decency to just stop sending e-mails, wait for his primary defeat in June, and then quietly resign from an office he has no business holding.

Just stay home in Billings, Corey, and let the adults handle this.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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.

19 Comments

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  • Now we’re faced with Brad Johnson running again for SoS, hoping to repeat his useless occupancy of space in that office. He’s been a subservient puppet for Pinocci & Lake to rubberstamp anything NWE wants. Now, he’s desperate to get into another state office again. He has no skills, no character, and no integrity, so he plans to inflict that on Montana yet again.

  • Speaking of feckless SOS candidates, Forrest Mandeville fronts the ultra-right effort to disenfranchise voters. He would stiffen the requirements for voter ID and eliminate voter registration on election days.

    Let’s see … on the GOP side, that leaves Christi Jacobsen (Stapleton’s evil twin), Bowen Greenwood (bored with 15 months as Supreme Court Clerk), and Kurt Johnson (a virtual non-entity).

    Each of them could rival Mr. Stapleton’s incompetence.

    • You beat me to the draw, JC. I was going to post something about the GOP SOS candidates. Except for Kurt Johnson, who nobody knows anything about, the other candidates you mentioned will continue the Stapleton legacy of rampant self-promotion, voter suppression and cluelessness. You didn’t include current PSC Chairman Brad Johnson or Montana State Senator Scott Sales, though. Now there’s a pair. The SOS slate rivals the GOP candidates for Montana’s U.S. House seat as people who shouldn’t hold public office (Stapleton’s House candidacy being near the top of the list, but Lamm and Rosendale certainly round out that group of scoundrels).

  • And, he further muddles the truth by suggesting that the USPS could be going bankrupt by June! As if our voters and election offices aren’t already stressed enough, once again we have to spend time defending the USPS, and reassuring Montana voters because of misinformation. As a county election worker, I have to emphasize that the USPS has done an exemplary job in the delivery of ballots. Is it perfect? Of course not, but Secretary Stapleton’s implication, in almost joking terms, is completely outrageous.
    Furthermore, scaring 14,000 Montana voters who he says “will not receive a mail ballot, due to a disconnect of information” is patently false! Once again, Secretary Stapleton is forgetting that 56 county election offices are continually reaching out to voters to insure that all Montana voters who are eligible, will receive their ballots, by reminding them to update their information. He also failed to tell Montanans that many of those 14,000 HAVE probably been contacted and perhaps, have moved away from the state. Why does Secretary Stapleton continue to be unhelpful?
    Election Administrators across Montana are encouraging Montanans to vote by mail. The governor’s directive also moved the Close of Registration up by nearly three weeks, thus allowing more Montanans to register by mail up to May 26th. Late Registration will begin on May 27th, and therefore necessitate fewer days to register and vote if that deadline is missed. It should also be mentioned that return postage for ballots will be paid by the State of Montana, further discouraging Montana voters from needing to vote in person, or to go out and have to buy stamps. That said, voting in person will ABSOLUTELY be available at election offices across the state. Call your local office for details. Ballots will be mailed on May 8th.

  • Dan, as little as I think of Stapleton, you do have an obligation not to misquote or mischaracterize what he says. He didn’t say “closing all voting locations”, he said “closing voting locations”.

    Does the Bullock order lessen the number of polling places? It could, depending on county decisionmaking.

    Did he say “exclusively via mail-in”? No, he said “primarily via mail-in”.

    Depending on the response from counties, this election could in fact be held primarily via mail-in ballot, a GOOD thing for which we should be THANKING Gov. Bullock and not using to unnecessarily impugn a Secretary of State (who clearly feels the heat of the enlarged franchise which mailed-in ballots represent.

    • I think this phrase from his e-mail undermines that argument. When Stapleton wrote that the governor’s order “will eliminate in-person voting locations,” he was either unaware of what the order said or trying to gin up a right-wing backlash. My guess is that it was the former.

      It would be one thing if Stapleton misspoke, but this was an e-mail crafted by the state’s top election official and sent to hundreds of thousands of addresses. Stapleton owes us accuracy.

      His effort to back peddle yesterday in the paragraph of media coverage about this didn’t really pass the smell test, either. This certainly isn’t the “first time” Montana has gotten rid of individual polling stations. Just ask people on reservations or in poorer neighborhoods.

      Appreciate the feedback, but I do think Corey’s e-mail, which I did quote accurately, stands for itself.

      Thanks!

  • Ok, Don, fair point. But are you taking a pass on “exclusively”/“primarily”?

    There you have to admit you misquoted the SoS, which lends credence to the argument that you also misconstrued the letter he sent out.

    I have neither read the Bullock decree nor the Stapleton letter so I will quickly defer to your judgement as one who has; but from this small snippet of quotes in your article, it appears some errors have occurred in translation.

    • Apologies for the delay in responding. While we’re working crazy hours in the classroom, I don’t want to post anything construed as political during what used to be “school hours,” so I am posting at lunch.

      I think we can disagree on how to interpret Stapleton’s remarks, but I do take issue with the claim that I misquoted him. I literally copied his e-mail and included it in the post. That’s not misquoting someone.

      Thanks!

    • @David – Unfortunately, Stapleton has a very consistent track record of doing/saying anything he can to suppress the vote. He has disseminated misleading and outright false information on more than one occasion. He once made a very blatant and intentional effort to get people to invalidate their own ballots.

      Are you familiar with Hanlon’s Razor? “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” That can certainly apply to SOME of Stapleton’s behavior in office, but I don’t think he deserves that cover for many of his egregiously political actions.

  • Your whole premise is flawed on this post.

    Why would Stapleton suppress the vote, with the GOP poised to run the table in Montana?

    Let’s see how many Dems will bother to show up with Sleepy Joe at the top of the ticket.

    • That’s probably why Republicans try to suppress votes in every action across the country. Sometimes they even admit it out loud.

      Your keen insight into politics continues to impress.

    • Let’s see now ……… a Democratic Governor, TWO Democratic US Senators, a Democrat in Montana’s seat in the US House. A Democrat in the SoS office, a Democratic AG, a Democratic Auditor, a Democrat as head of Public Education. Two principled, energetic Democrats staring across the table at Pinocci and Lake in the Public Service Commission.

      I’m trying to figure out where that table is that the GOP is going to run. Down in the basement, next to the boiler room I suspect. Be sure to attend those meetings. They’re going to need a little support from the numbskulls in red hats.

      • You were not here Claudius, but if you go back into the archives here Pogie has been a Pollyanna for all candidates behind their name, and the one person who calls them correct was me.

        In Montana, out of a million people, only 177,000 bothered to cast a vote for Hillary, yet Pogie and Pete thought she was going to win.

        • @E – Yeah, I’ve seen your wishful thinking before. Still think Art Wittich is going to beat the rap?

          Your myopic view of reality in Montana reminds me of the old recipe, “If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some eggs.

          We’ll see if any of your eggs hatch this fall.

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