HELENA – Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch is now in the spotlight, after she criticized the voting record of one of the candidates to succeed her.
On Thursday, McCulloch sent a letter to the editor of the Helena Independent Record, saying Republican Corey Stapleton, a former state senator from Billings, had not voted in seven elections since 2007. McCulloch provided the text of the letter to MTN.
“For someone who seeks to be the state’s chief elections official, that is a dereliction of civic duty,” the letter continued. “I believe this failure to show up at the polls makes him a largely deficient candidate, and perhaps even serves to disqualify him.”
McCulloch went on to say Stapleton’s opponent, Democratic state auditor Monica Lindeen, had voted in every election where records were available, and that she “would strongly encourage” readers to vote for Lindeen.
Stapleton called the letter an “abuse of power” by McCulloch, a Democrat who is not running again because of term limits.
“It’s kind of like a referee going into a football game and saying that he prefers one team to win over the other,” he said.
In Montana, whether or not a person votes is public record. MTN obtained copies of Stapleton and Lindeen’s voting histories from county officials.
The records come from the statewide Montana VOTES database. They include state primary and general elections as far back as 1994, along with some, but not all, local and school votes.
Stapleton has been registered to vote in Yellowstone County since 1997. His record shows that he did not vote in nine city, county or school elections during that time – all vote-by mail. He did vote in every statewide election listed, along with six local elections.
The records show Lindeen voted in every election she was eligible for. She was registered in Yellowstone County from 1992 until she became auditor, and Lewis and Clark County after.
Stapleton said he had no reason to believe the records were correct or incorrect. He accused McCulloch of conducting a partisan attack on him.
“Why would she not come out and say, ‘This is a candidate, Corey Stapleton, who’s voted in every primary and every general election for the last 20 years’?” he asked.
He also questioned the timing of McCulloch’s letter, which came out just before absentee ballots were mailed on Friday.
McCulloch says she wrote the letter as a private citizen, not in her official capacity. Stapleton admits she has the right to endorse a candidate, but says her position makes her different from other citizens.
“The secretary of state should never take sides in these races,” said Stapleton. “The secretary of state should remain above board and give the public confidence that, whether it’s a candidate you like or a candidate you don’t like, that at least they’re going to get a fair shake.”
McCulloch declined to make an additional statement for this story, but referred back to her original letter.
Reporter: Jonathon Ambarian