The Montana Secretary of State’s Office has been beset by mistakes and poor decisions ever since current Secretary Corey Stapleton was elected four years ago. From failed court fights to misprinted election material to rambling screeds having nothing to do with the duties of that office, Stapleton’s administration has made a noisy mess of an otherwise quiet and orderly state agency.
It’s time for a change in that office.
Stapleton opted not to run for re-election in order to pursue a seat in the U.S. Congress, but lost out to Matt Rosendale in the primaries. Current Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and Missoula Democrat Bryce Bennett are vying to fill Stapleton’s shoes.
In a phone interview with members of the Missoulian Editorial Board, Jacobsen fell short of fully acknowledging her role in the department’s repeated missteps, nor did she show that she has learned a lasting lesson from those mistakes.
On the other hand, Bryce Bennett has every quality a voter could ask for in a capable, effective secretary of state. Long familiar to Missoulians as a politically active and influential member of the local community, Bennett led the nonprofit MontPIRG for seven years as it carried out one of its principal missions — registering Montanans to vote.
As a state legislator, Bennett represented House District 91 from 2011 to 2019, and currently represents Senate District 50. From the start, he quickly took on leadership positions in the Legislature and has continually pushed to make voting easier and more accessible for more Montanans.
In just the most recent session, for instance, he sponsored bills to allow late registrant absentee ballots to be dropped off at polling locations, and to allow counties to pay for polls under specific circumstances. He was the only Democrat named a Legislator of the Year in 2015 by the Montana Ambassadors — alongside two Republicans.
On the business side, Bennett has received high marks from the Montana Chamber of Commerce, including recognition in 2019 from that organization for supporting the chamber’s priorities and for his overall pro-business voting record. He says business leaders are telling him that the Secretary of State’s Office is not running well for them, that it’s taking longer to get simple tasks done, and they are particularly concerned with the website’s constant changes. It sounds like the agency could sorely use Bennett’s talents as a focused and organized communicator.
Bennett also has a solid record of defending public lands. In his phone interview with the editorial board, Bennett said he is fully prepared to weigh the various proposals for state trust lands as a member of the state Land Board. He said he would support projects that use those resources responsibly while also promising to maximize their value for public schools.
With deep concerns about voter suppression and ballot tampering plaguing the nation and serious election matters facing Montana, it is absolutely critical that the secretary of state be someone who will focus on carrying out the agency’s core functions and not get swept up in baseless conspiracies.