Over the last few months, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has traveled our state attacking county election officials and telling anyone who will listen that there was widespread voter fraud during May’s Special Election. However, it has become painfully clear that he is unwilling or unable to provide any evidence to back up his accusations, despite being given opportunity after opportunity to do so.

Secretary Stapleton has been asked to appear at a Sept. 14 hearing of the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee, which has oversight over his office. I hope he finally decides to explain his baseless claims and provide the people of Montana with the answers they deserve.

However, there is another part of Secretary Stapleton’s first nine months in office that should concern Montanans just as much as his false voter fraud accusations: after wasting so much time undercutting our elections, Stapleton also hasn’t offered any proposals to improve them.

It’s not that solutions don’t exist. Since I was first elected to the legislature in 2010, my top priority has been ensuring that every Montanan can freely exercise their right to vote. I have worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues every year to improve our elections, so I know there are ways to empower more Montanans to participate in our democracy while increasing security and reducing costs.

First, we must rebuild trust with the local election officials who make our democracy possible, often with limited resources and aging election infrastructure. Any Montanan who has served as an election judge, registered voters, or stopped by a busy polling place knows our county election administrators are committed to the integrity of our elections. We must ensure these dedicated women and men have the respect and support they need to make our voting process a success for all Montanans.

Secondly, we should implement automatic voter registration, which will give all Montanans a voice in our elections. By using existing information within the Department of Motor Vehicles to register every eligible Montanan with a driver’s license or state ID, more Montanans than ever would be able to participate in our elections. Not to mention that it would be cheaper, stronger and more secure than our current registration system.

Finally, we should do more to empower voters to submit their ballots by mail. I’m proud that Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law my bill which ends the renewal process that absentee voters used to experience every year. Now, as long as you haven’t moved, you will continue to have your ballots delivered to your house. Our goal should be to build on this progress and make it easier to vote by mail, which will keep our elections secure while helping cash-strapped counties reduce spending.

So far, Stapleton has stood in the way of these common-sense proposals. And besides implying he would like law enforcement to take time away from protecting our communities to chase nonexistent fraud, he hasn’t proposed any ideas of his own.

Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and I believe when more of us engage in our democratic process, our government becomes more responsive to us and less responsive to the special interests that try to buy our elections.

Montanans deserve an election system that works for us, not against us. We deserve a government for us and by us. And we deserve a secretary of state who works to achieve these goals, not one who undermines them.

On Sept. 14, I hope Secretary Stapleton agrees.

Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, represents House District 91 in the Montana Legislature. 

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