(HELENA) The two leading candidates to become Montana’s next secretary of state have different philosophies when it comes to voting: One emphasizes access, while the other focuses on security.
Democratic state auditor Monica Lindeen says one of her top priorities if elected is making it easier for people to vote. She supports allowing online voter registration.
“That would be much easier for our folks at the county level, who are inputting a lot of that data by hand,” Lindeen said. “So it would be more accurate, it would save money for the counties, and it would be much more convenient for Montanans as well.”
The Republican candidate is Corey Stapleton, a former state senator and 2012 gubernatorial candidate from Billings. He says he’ll leave the decision on online registration to the state legislature, and he’ll implement whatever election laws they make. But he says he’s concerned about maintaining election security, pointing to reports that hackers attacked state election systems in Arizona and Illinois.
“Computers are constantly broken into, whether you’re in government, whether you’re in the private sector, whether you’re online,” he said. “I think a good dose of uncertainty will make us all better.”
Lindeen and Stapleton – along with Livingston attorney Roger Roots, running as a Libertarian – are competing to replace Democrat Linda McCulloch, who could not run again because of term limits. The winner will have to balance responsibilities ranging from elections to business services to public land management.
“It truly is a lot of spinning plates,” said Stapleton.
Stapleton and Lindeen also differ on McCulloch’s directive for counties to create satellite election offices on tribal reservations. The offices allow people living on reservations to register and vote certain days in the month before an election, but counties have had to close their main election offices to staff them.
Lindeen says she supports creating satellite offices, and she wants to find resources to keep main offices open at the same time. Stapleton believes the way satellite offices have been set up has stretched Montana law. He says one of his priorities is making sure election rules are consistent across all 56 counties.
The secretary of state’s office is responsible for filing documents needed to start or expand a business. Both candidates say they want to work with business owners to make those processes simpler.
The secretary of state is also one of five elected officials who make up Montana’s Land Board, which manages state trust lands and natural resources. The board has had a Democratic majority since 1992, and Stapleton says he wants to bring a different perspective. He says to other states; Montana has been “slow to the game” in developing its resources.
“I think it’s time that we take a different direction and put some leadership there who will do what they say, not just one of every four years, but four out of four years,” Stapleton said.
As state auditor, Lindeen has served on the land board for the last eight years. She says she voted for coal, oil, gas and timber leases that have raised millions of dollars for the Montana Public School Trust, while also working to increase public access to state lands.
“I have strong credibility and experience in working together to solve issues, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, and I’m going to continue to do that,” said Lindeen.
Reporter: Jonathon Ambarian