Update: The GOP’s Disingenuous Voter Challenge

By Beacon Staff

UPDATE: Taking issue with my blog, GOP Executive Director Jake Eaton called this morning to make the case that his party’s move to verify voter registration across the state is anything but “disingenuous.”

While many Democrats regard Schweitzer’s remarks about tampering with 2006 U.S. Senate election results as jokes, Eaton said he has heard many anecdotes from that election night that match up “far too closely” with what the governor told the attorney’s convention.

“I think there’s a lot of truth to what (Schweitzer) said,” Eaton added.

That the GOP is targeting voter registration in six traditionally Democratic-leaning counties is only because those are where Republicans found the greatest discrepancy in voter addresses, Eaton said, when comparing data from the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database, a commercial software system for direct marketers.

“This was one of the projects that we decided to start on making sure all the voter registration is as tight as can be,” Eaton said.

The state GOP plans to challenge the voter registration in several other counties throughout Montana in the coming days, Eaton said, and it will include calls for voter address verification in traditionally Republican-leaning counties, though the number of challenged voters is likely to be smaller than the six counties already named.

“I wish that Yellowstone County would have been number one, that would have made the whole thing a lot easier, but I can’t argue with the data,” Eaton said. “We’re looking all across the state and trying to get this put together as quick as we can.”

In cross-referencing the thousands of names on the rolls, Eaton said he took care to eliminate challenging thousands of voter names that popped up due to clerical errors or simple discrepancies involving post office boxes or apartment numbers. Republicans initially came up with 20,000 discrepancies, he said, and eliminated 14,000 names from needing to be challenged. Eaton added that Republicans only began checking the names in September, when the news emerged about Schweitzer’s remarks.

Eaton does not think the challenged voters will be discouraged from voting as a result of the Republican inquiry.

“It’s not that much to go through to ensure the process is legitimate,” he said. “You confirm your address, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask of folks.”

When asked whether the challenged voters would be reminded of the governor’s remarks when being forced to verify their addresses in the weeks before the election, Eaton said they would.

“I think a lot of folks are going to make that connection and realize that this is kind of a consequence of Schweitzer’s action,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think to know the laws apply across the board equally to everybody is a pretty good thing for the state of an election.”

ORIGINAL POST: Gov. Brian Schweitzer clearly stepped in it when he bragged about tampering with the results of the 2006 U.S. Senate election at an attorneys’ convention in July. The resulting scandal may have even damaged him in his re-election bid, as a new poll shows Republican Roy Brown drawing within 15 points of the incumbent. But for the GOP to use Schweitzer’s remarks as a reason to challenge the eligibility of 6,000 voters in Democratic-leaning counties is utterly disingenuous.

The Missoulian’s Chelsi Moy and the Associated Press broke the story Thursday, in which Republicans are challenging the eligibility of 6,000 voters in Missoula, Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier and Hill counties who filled out a change-of-address card with the U.S. Postal Service in the past 18 months.

“With Schweitzer’s recent comments about rigging the ’06 election, that brought everyone in the state to a new level of suspicion and awareness of the integrity of our elections,” state GOP executive director Jake Eaton was quoted as saying, adding that he wants people to register properly.


Many of these voters may have moved from one part of their county to another, and now they will be required to verify their address – adding one extra hassle to anyone leading a busy life who intends to vote. It’s a tenuous argument for Republicans to make that Schweitzer’s comments that he tried to “turn some dials” to help Jon Tester get elected justifies imposing impediments to voting on thousands of voters in traditionally Democratic areas and Native American counties.

And what’s the result of this going to be? Certainly not a more accurate voter count. There’s no electoral college among counties in Montana. Whether a person votes in the precinct where they currently live, or the one they recently moved from, the vote count remains the same, and doesn’t affect the election’s outcome.

For the election administrators in these counties, they’ve been saddled this week with mailing out thousands of notices to voters informing them that they need to verify their addresses. One administrator wants the GOP to pay for the postage. You could make a case for the necessity of these challenges to voter credentials among people who no longer live in Montana. But in Missoula, it looks as though only about 200 out of the 3,422 challenged voters live out of state and only 900 moved outside the county.

Roy Brown has, thus far, run a fair and honorable campaign against a strong incumbent governor. It’s a tough position to be in, and when news broke that Schweitzer was bragging about tainting Montana’s electoral integrity, I waited to see how the GOP would capitalize on this opportunity, delivered on a silver platter, to turn the race around.

But I just don’t see how presenting another hurdle for well-intentioned voters, regardless of party, is going to allow any Republican elected by, say, less than a 6,000-vote margin to govern effectively after a stunt like this.