This is a response to several accusations and editorial attacks on me and the Office of the Secretary of State, from a Billings Gazette editorial that ran on Oct. 31.
In that editorial, I believe there are two legitimate questions brought up: Have I (and our office) exercised good judgment, and have we spent our money appropriately? I’ll address these two at the bottom.
Additionally, there were six falsehoods or mistakes in the Gazette editorial.
1. The writer claimed it was proven “absolutely false” there were any cases of voter fraud in 2017. Not true. I shared with the editorial board four voter fraud investigations that I knew of which were being handled by law enforcement, county attorneys or the Commissioner of Political Practices. I have said numerous times that we don’t have widespread voter fraud in Montana but we do have a handful of cases.
2. The writer mocked my military background and stated the submarine on the Voter Information pamphlet “wasn’t correct”. Not true. The photo is properly credited and footnoted on the reverse page.
3. The writer dangerously accuses that I have intentionally chosen to make who “gets on the ballot political”. Not true. I consider that slander. Getting on the ballot and staying on the ballot are importantly two different things. The Montana Democratic Party sued the state of Montana, and named me as the defendant. I defended and certified the hard work of the election administrators in Great Falls, Billings and Helena. I defended Montana law to keep third-party candidates on the ballot. The plaintiffs made it political, and we responded appropriately with specialized outside legal counsel.
4. The writer alleges that we “saddled taxpayers with $60,000”. Not true. Taxpayers don’t even fund our office. We are a completely self-sustaining agency operated from fees that we charge our customers, mostly businesses. And our fees are some of the lowest in the nation. As long as we live within the budget that the Legislature sets for us, which we do, we have wide discretion to spend money as we see fit. Any mistakes, like the $265,000 addendum to the pamphlet, are paid for with savings in our operational budget. We have not asked for additional money in the form of a supplemental appropriation for our mistake, nor will we. Taxpayers aren’t on the hook for anything. This attack from the writer is uninformed.
5. The writer references a “steady exodus” of staff in our office since my Republican administration took over from my Democratic predecessor last year. This is a really interesting accusation, considering no reporter or news media has ever covered or written about our staff at large. We are incredibly proud of our staff, and would tell our story to anybody and everybody. We have great leaders and managers and staff that are highly engaged in meaningful work, and we manage people in an intentional system. The troubling part of this slap is that The Gazette is allowing unsubstantiated editorial accusations to be the basis of calling for legislative oversight. We are a leaner and better agency due to excellent management, and that is a good thing.
6. The writer criticizing my errors, misspelled my last name in the editorial. But hey, we all make mistakes, right?
Since I am not a candidate for office in 2018, I can only assume that the bizarre timing and viciousness of these personal attacks right before an election was either meant to undermine voter confidence in our elections, or attempt to politically injure me while voters are paying attention. But these are bogus attacks. I’m incredibly disappointed in The Billings Gazette editorial board.
Our office was accountable for a mistake. We did our best to fix it. We are human. It is my hope that The Gazette will do the same. I have absolutely used my best judgment in spending decisions as Montana’s business officer and chief elections officer. I truly believe that we are one of the best-run agencies in state government, and that the 2019 Legislature will find the same conclusion in January when they examine our agency’s finances, performance, and decision-making.
I think we can all agree on a few things. Those of us who serve in enhanced positions of influence have increased responsibilities of communicating accurately and spending resources wisely. Whether you are distributing a message to thousands of readers or thousands of voters, it matters that we are fair, accurate and honest. At the Office of the Secretary of State our goal is to provide immaculate service to all our customers. As the leader of this amazing group of people, I will continue to do what I think is right, and to ensure all Montanans can be proud of our government.