For immediate releaseSecretary of StateEDITOR’S NOTE
: These stories are produced by University of Montana journalismstudents under the supervision of Professor Dennis Swibold. They may be used withoutcharge, provided editors retain the students’ bylines. Please contact Professor Swibold(email@example.com
Secretary of State Rivals Spar over Election Rules
By ERICA DOORNEK Community News ServiceUM School of Journalism
Whether it’s striving to comply with election law, helping voters register, or streamlining business licensing, the secretary of state’s job is to set the record straight andensure Montanans’ confidence in the process.But after a shaky 2006 election raised concerns about vote security and lateregistration policies, the question is, just how far has election
reform come and whereshould it go?On Nov. 4, voters will answer that by choosing between Republican incumbent BradJohnson and Democratic challenger Linda McCullochJohnson, a former businessman and congressional aide, is seeking a second four-year term. McCulloch is Montana’s outgoing superintendent of public instruction and a former legislator. Both know Helena and Montana politics. Both understand the job’s most public task: election reform.The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 established guidelines for making votingeasier, including late registration and use of electronic voting machines.But after the 2006 election, a legislative audit found 14 instances where the secretaryof state’s office failed to comply with HAVA regulations. The audit cited a “lack of planning” in distributing voter information, in dealing with same-day registration, intraining election workers and in updating the state’s voter database.Johnson said h
worked hard to comply with the new and complex federal law.“We didn’t miss any major deadlines,” he said. “The registration database was upand running, but the same-day registration was a huge amount of work for electionofficials. … Help America Vote was a classic piece of federal government one-size-fits-all legislation that can be hard for a state like Montana to implement.”McCulloch contends that Johnson gave no direction on how to train and prepareemployees for the new regulations under HAVA.“We really have to make sure it runs smoothly at the state level before it can work inthe counties,” she said. “We’re on our way there, but the 2006 election really set us back.”Johnson said he is confident his office is ready for Nov. 4. He believes Montana isnow 100 percent HAVA-compliant. “I’ve visited the top election officials in all 56counties, and I couldn’t be more confident in their abilities,” he said.