HELENA — A recent review of Montana's voter registration system found that there were nearly 500 deceased people still on the voter rolls, but no evidence that any of them had voted, according to legislative auditors.
However, the auditors said they omitted certain findings about the state's election security system from the report because it "could be used by malicious actors to undermine election security and voter confidence." Critical findings were discussed with Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, auditors said.
The election security and voter registration audit is one of several that will be discussed by the Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 6.
The issue of election security came to the forefront after the Department of Justice found the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Since 2018, Montana has received $6.1 million in federal Help America Vote Act grants to improve election administration standards. Montana spent $2.1 million to improve its voter registration system.
Auditors compared updates to the voter registration system since 2015 with a death index file from the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and found 493 matches with deceased individuals who were still listed among registered voters. Counties receive the death lists and update their own voter rolls.
Of the 4.6 million ballots cast in various elections since 2010, auditors found two situations in which it appeared ballots had been accepted after a voter's death. However, one case involved a man who had the same name as his late father and inadvertently voted his father's ballot in seven different elections. The man did not vote twice, auditors said.
The other case was an input error by a clerk's office that incorrectly made it appear a deceased person had voted, auditors said.
Auditors recommended, and Stapleton agreed, that his office needs to better communicate with county offices and ensure they are updating voter rolls on a timely basis. Auditors also recommended Stapleton's office set clear expectations and timelines for projects funded by federal Help America Vote Act grants.
The Montana Legislature should pass a law that defines election security and creates a formal process to assess security measures, auditors recommended, and lawmakers could take some role in the oversight of the federal election security grants if they wanted to.
The Secretary of State's Office should also hire an information security manager to manage security for the entire office, noting the position had been open since 2017, auditors said. In early August, the agency was advertising for an IT Security Analyst, Stapleton wrote in response to the audit.
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