The majority of Yellowstone County voters and thousands of their neighbors across Montana have changed the way they vote over the past four years.
Mail ballots, consolidated polling places, late registration and Election Day registration have all become more popular. Two years ago, 47 percent of Montanans voted by mail. In Yellowstone County, 75 percent of ballots voted had been mailed. Those figures are expected to be higher on Nov. 6.
In her first term, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch has helped facilitate this change by working with county elections officials to make the voting process more convenient for voters and more manageable for local election officials. McCulloch has been a tireless advocate for voter registration and education.
Starting with the June primary, the Secretary of State Office expanded its election results reporting. All 56 counties can now report their results electronically to the secretary of state and interested citizens can quickly see details of the voting online.
Earlier this year, McCulloch added the Montana Fair Elections Center to the department's elections web page. The site allows concerned citizens to report suspected election fraud online and provides other reporting options. The office of the secretary of state will investigate complaints and turn over any evidence to the county attorney in the counties where it allegedly occurred.
However, in McCulloch’s time in office, no cases of voter fraud have been substantiated. Furthermore, the Secretary of State Office conducts audits of county ballot counts and has confirmed the consistent accuracy of local counts.
McCulloch’s general election opponent is Brad Johnson, who was the incumbent secretary of state four years ago. Back then, it seemed to us that Johnson had done a good job in office.
But when McCulloch took office, she found that Johnson had promised about $58,000 in bonuses to nine of his appointed staff members who no longer worked for the office -- bonuses that he directed to be paid after McCulloch took office. The bonuses were not paid after a state attorney advised her that payment would be illegal.
Johnson said in a recent interview that he did nothing wrong. Yet the appearance of impropriety was clear and outrageous at a time of financial hardship for many Montanans.
Conversely, when McCulloch’s staff received no pay raise, she turned down the raise that state law would have given her. She drives a 12-year-old state car.
McCulloch has done a good job of running this department with 58 employees.
-- A year after she took office, several thousand more businesses filed annual reports online, instead of on paper, saving themselves time and money.
-- The first phase of an up-to-date business computer system is coming online in the SOS office.
-- A switch to email notices rather than mailed notices has saved money for the SOS office and resulted in many more businesses filing required documents on time, saving them fines and late fees.
-- She procured a $160,000 grant to improve electronic voting for Montana residents serving in the U.S. military or living overseas.
The former elementary school librarian and two-term state superintendent of public instruction boasts perfect attendance at State Land Board meetings where she has supported wind, coal and timber projects over the past 11 ½ years.
Let’s keep McCulloch fighting for fair, honest, open and accurate elections for all eligible Montana voters.