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Secretary of State Final

Secretary of State Final

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Published by: dennis.swibold3413 on Oct 15, 2008
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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(dennis.swibold@umontana.edu
) with any questions. You can also find this story andothers on the upcoming election at www.montanaschoice2008.blogspot.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.
Even so, Johnson remains critical of Montana’s same-day voter registration law,which allows qualified voters to register and vote on Election Day. Late registrants keptthe polls open in Montana’s major cities for too long in 2006 and delayed election results,he said.“I propose that we shorten the 30-day late registration period by a day and a half, sowe can give county officials time to get their poll books updated,” he said. “If you didn’tregister to vote on time, that’s just tough.”Johnson couldn’t persuade the 2007 Legislature to make that change, but he hasn’tgiven up.McCulloch, by contrast, said the problem in 2006 wasn’t with the same-day law, butwith the preparation. The large number of voters who registered on Election Day in 2006 proves that Montanans like the idea, she added.“The train really left the station on that one,” she said. “Now the secretary of stateneeds to take a leadership role with registration instead of fighting against it.”Both candidates agree that Montana has made absentee voting easier. Johnson predicts Montana may eventually go to an all-absentee system like Oregon’s.Encouraging more young people to vote is another priority for both candidates.“We’ll need to go out into high schools, universities, and tribal communities in a bipartisan way to generate excitement about voting,” McCulloch said.She said she would also propose legislation that would allow high school students toserve as election judges. “What better way to get young people in every corner of thestate involved at the ground level?” she asked.Johnson said it’s crucial to break down the “disconnect and cynicism” many young people have about government.Beyond running elections, Montana’s secretary of state is charged with licensing andkeeping records of every business in the state. Johnson said that in 2004, he set out to bethe “technology secretary,” vowing to bring the office’s 1970s-era computer system up todate and to streamline business services.“We’ve made tremendous strides,” he said. “Licensing a business in the old daystook almost a month. Now it’s down to two days.”McCulloch said she can handle the challenge, offering her eight years asSuperintendent of Public Instruction as evidence. For example, she said, she built anonline teacher licensing system from the ground up.“I’ve talked to business owners who say that in the past few years, it’s still beentough to get their businesses licensed,” McCulloch added. “It should not be hard to provide this resource so that businesses can generate income.”Another of the secretary’s responsibilities is membership on the State Land Board,which oversees the management of more than 5 million acres of state lands, the proceedsof which help fund K-12 public schools.As state school superintendent, McCulloch served on the board for eight years.“This is an important way to generate non-tax funding for schools,” she said. “That’swhy it’s so disturbing that Brad Johnson has missed more meetings than any other member.”In his four-year tenure, Johnson has failed to show up for or call in to at least fiveLand Board meetings. Johnson declined to comment on the absences specifically, but

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