Republican Brad Johnson said Wednesday a top focus in his campaign to take back the Montana secretary of state position is to improve election integrity. He has introduced a five-point plan including requiring photo IDs to do so.
“I think it’s a major issue. I think that folks are genuinely concerned that we can ensure the integrity of the outcome of the election process, and that’s what that five-point package is intended to do, ” he said in an interview.
Johnson was elected secretary of state in 2004. He lost his bid for re-election in 2008, with Democrat Linda McCulloch winning with 233,717 votes to Johnson’s 228,412.
This year, Johnson and McCulloch face Libertarian Roger Roots in the Nov. 6 general election.
Johnson said Wednesday that he is trying to prevent problems in the future by implementing his five-point plan.
“I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting we have a crisis in election integrity in Montana because I don’t think we do. But we do see documented cases of voter and election fraud occurring all over the country. Montana is not immune, and I think it’s just common sense to be proactive, to put in place these precautions before we have a crisis that we have to deal with. ”
Along with the photo ID, his plan would:
• Shorten the late-voter registration period to close on the Friday before Election Day
• Implement signature matching software for mail-in ballots that he said would increase the accuracy and speed of the process
• Request access to the System Alien Verification for Entitlements program from the Department of Homeland Security and the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to identify and remove from the voter rolls legal non-citizen residents who are registered to vote;
• Provide a state-level capability for the secretary of state, working with the state attorney general, to investigate and prosecute election law violations.
Johnson said his ID plan is modeled on a program set up in Indiana which was ruled constitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision and will not restrict access to voting.
He said the plan includes providing a free ID for registered voters who request one. Even if people come to the polls without a valid ID they will be allowed to vote as if they were voting absentee.
“And it’s treated exactly the same, ” he said.
He added that while he was secretary of state he turned back an attempt to invalidate 6,500 voter registrations in eastern Montana, mostly on Indian reservations.
“So we turned back that challenge that was issued by my own party, ” Johnson said. “So I will put my record of fighting for access to the elections process against anybody. ”
Johnson said he cannot give a firm figure on how much his five-point proposal would cost, and he is still researching that, but it would pay for itself within a couple of election cycles.
His attempt to prevent same-day registration is an ongoing battle, he said.
He said people characterizing him as supporting same-day registration in 2005 then reversing his position is false.
In the 2005 Legislature, with Democratic control in Helena, one of two same-day registration bills were going to pass, Johnson said. One was completely unacceptable.
“I was forced with having to choose with what was, in my view, the lesser of two evils, ” he said.
He said he supports people having the opportunity to vote absentee, by mail, but he would not support going to all-mail ballots. What the state has now is the right mix, he said.
“What I oppose is the government coming in and arbitrarily taking from me my right to go to the polling place and cast my ballot in person on Election Day, and I remain opposed to that and will, ” he said. “We have 50 percent of the people that have chosen to vote by mail, which means we have 50 percent of the voters who still want to go to the polls. ”
A proposal to create an all-mail ballot system also raised security issues, he added.