Most GOP secretary of state candidates oppose same-day voter registration, voting

2012-05-02T16:55:00Z 2014-03-12T15:57:07Z Most GOP secretary of state candidates oppose same-day voter registration, votingBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Three of the four Republicans running for secretary of state want to repeal the law that allows people to register to vote on Election Day and cast their votes then.

Most also are opposed to a proposal by the Democratic incumbent, Linda McCulloch, to switch to make most of Montana's elections voting by mail. The 2011 Legislature rejected the idea.

They are seeking the Republican nomination in the June 5 primary election to run against McCulloch, who has no primary opposition, in the November election.

The secretary of state is Montana's chief election official, oversees corporate filings and is one of five members of the state Land Board. The job pays $86,018 annually.

The Republican candidates are:

-- Scott Aspenlieder, 30, a senior manager and shareholder at WWC Engineering in Helena.

Born and raised in Culbertson, Aspenlieder received bachelor's degree in bio-resources engineering from Montana State University in 2005. He has not run for office previously.

-- Former Secretary of State Brad Johnson, 61, a consultant from East Helena. Born in Illinois, Johnson has a master's degree in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1976. After moving to Montana in 1980, Johnson lost races for the U.S. House and Senate and the Public Service Commission. He was elected as Montana's secretary of state in 2004, only to be unseated by McCulloch four years later.

-- Patty Lovaas, 60, a certified public accountant from Missoula. A Minnesota native, Lovaas moved to Montana and received an accounting degree from the University of Montana in 1985. She has lost races for the Montana House and Senate and the U.S. Senate.

-- Drew Turiano, 38, a real estate investor from Helena. Born and raised in New York, Turiano received a master's degree in political science from Fordham University in 2004. He initially ran for governor but later dropped out to run for secretary of state.

Aspenlieder had the fundraising lead through the last campaign finance reporting period, with $40,358 in primary cash on hand on April 5, followed by Turiano with $9,055; Johnson with $495; and Lovaas with $62.

The Gazette State Bureau asked the candidates about their position on the 2005 law that allows people to register to vote on Election Day and cast their votes the same day.

Aspenlieder said he opposes the law and noted that Johnson had supported it as secretary of state in 2005. "The current late voter registration places (an) unnecessary burden on county election officials and subjects voters to different levels of scrutiny to establish where and how they should count their ballot or whether they have voted in elections in another state," he said.

Johnson now opposes Election Day voter registration, saying "it places an unnecessary burden on county election officials and on the vast majority of voters who have met their responsibility to register in a timely fashion. It also increases the potential for error and fraud."

Turiano also wants the law repealed, saying: "I feel this way because this is a tactic that's been used in other states by Democrats in a way to help the Democrats over Republicans. I believe the same thing is happening now in Montana."

Lovaas, however, said she would support the law under certain conditions. "I believe no valid voter should be disenfranchised," she said. "However, there must be a valid required ID presented."

As about McCulloch's proposal to switch most Montana elections to vote by mail, Aspenlieder said he is opposed, adding: "Voters should be able to cast their ballots using whatever method best suits their lifestyle. Depriving people of the right to go to the polls, check the box and earn their ‘I voted' sticker is unnecessary and wrong."

Johnson agreed, saying: "It is a government-mandated denial of Montanans' right to choose how they vote. It created a higher probably of errors in the election process and increases the likelihood of fraudulent activity in the system."

Turiano also concurred. "I take this position because there is a higher propensity for fraud in elections with a total vote-by-mail system."

"When and until there are adequate safeguards and procedures to protect the integrity of the vote-by-mail method of voting, I would not support it," Lovaas said. "The electorate must have confidence in the process, and public trust in the administration of the procedures. (I think) the current voter database is fatally flawed based on my extensive knowledge on the subject ..."

Candidates were asked what is the main issue they are emphasizing in their campaign.

"All too often, the secretary of state's position on the Land Board is overlooked when it comes to impact it can have in creating jobs," Aspenlieder said. "Development of Montana's natural resources — oil, coal, timber, minerals and agriculture — on state lands needs to be championed by all five elected officials on the board."

Johnson cited his "experience, leadership and a record of accomplishment necessary to hit the ground running," adding: "No other candidate has a record of actually fighting to repeal Election Day voter registration and implementing a paper ballot system. I have effectively advanced efforts to responsibly develop our natural resources as a member of the state Land Board ..."

Turiano said he has vowed that he will refuse to certify the potential re-election of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., in 2014 because of the term limits in the Montana Constitution. Baucus was first elected to the Senate in 1978.

In 1992, voters in Montana and some other states passed constitutional amendments to limit the number of terms U.S. senators and representatives, as well as state officeholders and legislators, could serve. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 ruled that states cannot impose term limits on federal representatives. Despite the decision, the congressional term limits wording still remains in the Montana Constitution.

"I am beholden to the Montana Constitution and to state's rights over the opinions of unelected federal judges that may demand I certify Max Baucus," Turiano said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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