Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton is reporting voter fraud in Missoula County. But the county’s top election official says it was just a clerical error. Stapleton’s allegation comes a day after state officials certified the results of the May 25 special congressional election.
Secretary of State Stapleton says one mail ballot was cast in Missoula with a signature that did not belong to the voter who was issued the ballot.
“The signature had gotten through even though it was clearly not their signature," Stapleton says. "My concern is that this is the second cycle now. We had some issues last fall of the integrity of some of these mail ballots. In that case, it was a matter of people knocking on people's doors and collecting them and there was (sic) issues of whether those actually got delivered."
Stapleton, a Republican, says this is an issue his office is taking seriously, although he says it’s not something he thinks is widespread.
Leading up to the 2016 election, the chairman of the Republican party raised concerns about Democrats offering to pick up and deliver ballots for voters, possibly throwing them out depending on the voter’s political leanings. The GOP chair at the time, Jeff Essmann, said his party did not offer to deliver ballots for voters.
The previous Secretary of State, Democrat Linda McCulloch, said at the time that both parties participated in delivering absentee ballots for voters, which is legal. Last fall the GOP set up a hotline to help people confirm mail ballots were reaching election offices and the party confirmed that ballots did reach county offices.
Soon after, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton announced voter fraud in Missoula today, the county’s elections administrator Rebecca Connors objected the claim.
“I absolutely think there is some political posturing going on with this incident,” Connors said.
Connors says ever since the 2017 legislative session debate over mail balloting, there has been animosity toward elections clerks and the mail balloting process.
She says what the Secretary of State is calling voter fraud was just a clerical error. Connors says in households or in apartment complexes, people can often end up opening and signing the wrong ballot on accident. Connors says in most cases election officials notice the wrong signature and contact the voters.
“And it’s more of a mistake. There is not intent to force someone else's ballot they’re just signing the wrong envelope,” she said.
Jason Marks, the deputy county attorney, says he couldn't say whether the incorrect signature on the ballot cast in Missoula was intentional or not, but local law enforcement is looking into it.
In a press release, the Secretary of State’s office implied intent, calling the case “forgery on a mail-in ballot.”