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.
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.