HELENA — Corey Stapleton launched his campaign for secretary of state this week with a pledge to provide Montanans with more information on voting trends.
The Billings Republican said Thursday that he’s concerned by what he calls a lack of communication from Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and state media on the number of voter registrations voided in 2015.
McCulloch said in a statement that about 70,000 people became ineligible to vote this year due to voter inactivity, death, leaving Montana or other reasons outlined in state and federal laws.
“When both the elected officials and the media don’t talk about these things, bad things can happen,” Stapleton said.
Historical data is open for public inspection at county election offices, McCulloch said. She described Montana elections as among the most fair in the country in part because the voter registry is well-managed.
“Anyone running for any public office, including the secretary of state, should want the voter list maintained rather than have a list loaded with ineligible voters,” McCulloch said.
Stapleton called the cancellations a purge. The candidate said he was turned on to the issue by an Aug. 13 Media Trackers article that reported more than 52,000 voters had been removed from the voter database.
McCulloch rebuffed that ineligible voters are purged from the system. She said entire registration histories are maintained by the state despite eligibility.
“What I would do differently is be more proactive in communicating issues around voting integrity,” Stapleton said. “You may really like big government or you may really like small government, but in Montana, you should be self-assured that you can trust the government and trust the press.”
McCulloch is term-limited and cannot seek re-election in 2016.
County election administrators are responsible for tracking and cancelling voter registrations. McCulloch’s office could not immediately say how many voters had been removed from the rolls in previous years.
Data provided on the secretary of state’s website shows Montana, like the rest of the nation, experienced a voter surge in 2008. Montana’s 74.5 percent turnout, or about 500,000 votes cast in the general election that year was the state’s highest participation rate since 1992.
Anyone who voted in the 2008 election but hasn’t voted since and failed to respond to inquiries from the secretary of state became ineligible this year. According to McCulloch, that reason accounted for about 57,000 Montanans being removed from the registry.
Another 3,730 people were removed from the roll this year because they told the state that they were leaving Montana and would no longer vote here.
About 2,000 people requested to be taken off the voter registry for other reasons, 6,500 voters died, 166 voters were convicted of a felony and became ineligible, and three voters were court-ordered off the list due to mental incapacity.