Montana

Johnson Fights Back on Same-Day Voter Registration, Accuses McCulloch of "Spewing Lies"

Campaigns

Controversial former GOP Secretary of State and current candidate Brad Johnson is fighting back against criticisms of his record on same-day voter registration, claiming that the he only supported the law that brought about same-day registration because the 2005 Democrat-controlled legislature was intent on enacting the policy. He also claimed that he acted to make sure the law that passed was the least detrimental to the state’s electoral system.

“Brad Johnson has never supported election-day voter registration,” states Johnson’s campaign website in a section entitled Linda’s Lies.  “In the 2005 legislative session, Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature and were intent on passing a bill that would create election-day voter registration at every polling place in the state and repeal the existing voter identification law.”

Johnson has continually been criticized by both Democratic incumbent Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and fellow Republicans for supporting same-day voter registration during his 2005-2009 term as the state’s chief elections official, while making the repeal of same-day voter registration a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign.

“My predecessor’s office testified for same day voter registration,” stated McCulloch during an interview on the October 11 edition of Voices of Montana with Aaron Flint, “He was for it, now he’s against it.”

Johnson vociferously denied this charge.

“Linda McCulloch continued to spew lies about my record as Secretary of State onVoices of Montana with Aaron Flint,” stated Johnson in an email to Media Trackers.  “She falsely accused me again of supporting election-day voter registration during my first term as Secretary of State.”

Johnson also says that in the 2007 legislative session he introduced a bill that would repeal same-day voter registration.

Media Trackers analysis found that during the 2005 legislative session, two different bills, SB 367 and SB 302, were introduced that would have established same-day voter registration.  Both bills were addressed in the same February 2005 meeting of the Senate State Administration Committee with Johnson’s Office opposing SB 367, but speaking in favor of SB 302.

SB 367, introduced by State Senator Mike Cooney (D-Helena), was a bill that dealt specifically with same-day registration, allowing it at every polling place.

According to the transcript of the committee meeting, Johnson’s representative at the meeting, Elaine Gravely, spoke of examples of citizens who were able to register to vote in both Montana and South Dakota and that “the Secretary of State’s Office is very reluctant about same day registration and voting for this reason. She urged the Committee to not pass this bill.”

Later in the same meeting, SB 302 was discussed.  SB 302 was introduced by State Senator Jon Ellingson (D-Missoula), the Senate Majority Leader at the time, and was a more comprehensive law that established the state’s now controversial mail-in ballot system and established same-day voter registration, though it limited same-day voting to county elections offices.  Johnson’s office supported this bill.

“They (Brad Johnson’s Secretary of State office) support the bill,” stated Gravely during discussion.

Johnson’s reason for supporting SB 302, he now claims, was political pragmatism.

“I fought to limit election-day voter registration to the 56 county election offices where election officials could more effectively check the eligibility of new registrants,” stated Johnson in the email, “As a result, the bill enacted (SB 302) was far less detrimental to the integrity of Montana’s elections than the bill (SB 367) that was originally proposed.”

SB 302 was eventually passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Johnson’s candidacy has proven controversial. The mail-in ballot system and same-day voter registration have proved quite unpopular with conservatives and played a major role in Johnson being unseated by McCulloch in the 2008 election.

The McCulloch campaign did not respond to Media Trackers request for comment prior to publication.

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