Wednesday, May 22, 2024
48.0°F

Strengthening the integrity of Montana’s elections

We’re now less than a year out from one of the biggest elections in Montana history. Next November, our ballots will be stacked with candidates for president, U.S. Senate, two congressional seats, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, state auditor, and two supreme court seats (including chief justice), to say nothing of regional and local offices and any potential ballot initiatives.

Ahead of such a jam-packed election cycle that is sure to produce high voter turnout and its share of controversy over the candidates and issues, we want to highlight the work the Legislature has done to shore up the integrity of our elections. 

Our administrative processes for conducting elections need to be above reproach, regardless of political party or ideology. Every single eligible Montanan should be able to cast their vote knowing that it will be counted accurately, and have confidence that no ineligible person is able to cast a ballot.

The 2023 Legislature created an entire special select committee that took a months-long deep dive into the details of our state’s election processes. Senate President Jason Ellsworth appointed stalwart conservative Sen. Carl Glimm to chair the committee. The committee deliberately looked for loopholes in the system. In the end, the committee found no reason for alarm over the state’s existing processes and no reason to doubt any of Montana’s recent election results, but the committee did identify ways to improve our already good system and informed the broader Legislature of those recommendations. 

Here is a brief summary of the election integrity improvements that were passed by the 2023 Legislature:

• Prohibited outside money in election administration, such as the “Zuckerbucks” that generated national controversy in the 2020 election (SB 117, Sen. Shelley Vance)

• Doubled the number of precincts and elections that will undergo randomized post-election audits (SB 197, Sen. Mike Cuffe)

• Made all counties subject to post-election audits, even those that don’t use vote-counting machines (SB 254, Sen. Ken Bogner)

• Required tabulation machines to be physically incapable of connecting to the internet or otherwise communicating with other devices, preventing any threat of hacking or manipulation (HB 173, Rep. David Bedey)

• Strengthened laws against “double voting” (HB 892, Rep. Lyn Hellegaard), required vote-counting to continue until complete (HB 196, Rep. Lyn Hellegaard), strengthened laws preventing noncitizens from voting (HB 712, Rep. Zack Wirth), and cleaned up voter rolls and required additional verification of absentee ballot addresses (SB 498, Sen. Shane Morigeau) 

Those changes combined with existing laws and processes mean that in 2024, Montanans can be confident that voting machines are secure, only eligible Montana citizens are casting ballots, vote counts are timely and accurate, outside money is not affecting the vote count, and all elections are subject to randomized and robust auditing. 

2024 won’t just be the busiest election in state history. It will also be the most secure. 

Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is president of the Montana Senate; Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, chaired the Legislature’s Select Committee on Election Security; Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, chairs the Senate State Administration Committee; Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, was Gallatin County’s Clerk and Recorder for 18 years.