When it comes to same-day voter registration, Brad Johnson registered his stance early. Since the law allowing citizens to register to vote right up to election day passed in 2005, the candidate for Montana secretary of state says he's recognized a need to scale back. But only by one day, Johnson says: election day.
"From day one, my perspective has been this has created an unnecessary level of turmoil in the elections office on election day," he says. "We can eliminate that and still have nearly unparalleled access to the elections process."
Voter fraud has become a central talking point in the Republican primary for Montana secretary of state. Three of the four candidates have staked their claim on the issue, calling for an end to same-day voter registration and demanding that citizens present photo ID when registering. It's become a familiar GOP mantra in recent years. Democrats argue it's simply a way for Republicans to disenfranchise progressive voters, more of whom typically register on election day than conservatives.
But just how prevalent is voter fraud in Montana? Johnson, who served as secretary of state from 2005 to 2008, says "Montana does not, today, have rampant voter fraud." Instead he feels "it's prudent that we don't get to the point where we have rampant voter fraud" before taking action.
Ironically, perhaps, the only large-scale example of election cycle mischief in the state in recent years was perpetrated by Republicans. In 2008, Montana Republican Party executive director Jake Eaton attempted to challenge the registration status of thousands of voters in Democratic-leaning counties. The plan was foiled, and Eaton ended up the target of a lawsuit.
Johnson's ties to the incident are of particular note given his 2012 campaign's emphasis on voter fraud. Johnson was a defendant in the same lawsuit as Eaton. Plaintiffs alleged that his response to the challenges had been "slow and incomplete, and insufficient to protect plaintiffs' voting rights." Johnson's own take on the incident reads far differently.
"I went head-to-head with my own party," Johnson says. "I sent one of my senior staff people over to the Montana Republican Party three times before they filed those challenges telling them not to do it, and they refused to listen."
The Democrats dropped the lawsuit after Johnson stated that such voter challenges should be rejected in the future.
Johnson is touting his longterm stance on voter fraud in advance of the primary. He's "no Johnny-come-lately" to the fight, he says. The insinuation seems to be that, by comparison, his Republican opponents registered in the eleventh hour.