Mailers urging Montanans to apply for an absentee ballot—regardless of whether they were already registered to vote by mail— have prompted many concerned Montanans to reach out to the Commissioner of Political Practice’s office. “We’ve had inquiries about the funding behind the mailers, possible political nature of the messaging, voter privacy, and the use of the state seal,” said Commissioner Jeff Mangan. “In reviewing these concerns, the mailers do not appear to violate Montana’s campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws.”
The funding for the mailers is traceable through the Federal Election Commission and does not come from a dark money source. Under Montana law, the mailers do not qualify as an election or electioneering communication because they do not support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue, nor do they refer to a candidate, political party or ballot issue on the November ballot. Rather, the mailers encourage registered voters to apply for an absentee ballot. Other states, such as Wisconsin, have also had third-party groups send voters absentee ballot registration materials that contained confusing information.
New American Jobs Fund, a federally registered super political action committee, sent the Montana mailers and used a Voter File purchased from the Secretary of State to identify voters’ addresses. The Voter File can be purchased for non-commercial use and includes a list of registered voters’ addresses and voting history.
The use of the state seal is overseen by the Montana Secretary of State. The mailer enclosed a copy of the Secretary of State’s official application to register as an absentee voter. The absentee ballot application is a public document that includes the state seal. The document is available for download and distribution. The state seal was not used on any other portion of the mailers. Questions about the use of the state seal should be directed to the Secretary of State’s office.
Montanans can check their voter status and see if they are registered to receive an absentee ballot by going to www.myvoterpagemt.com or by calling their county election office. Montanans can register to vote in the November 6 elections at their county election office until the polls close on election day. Registered voters can apply for an absentee ballot by mail or in person at their local election office through 12 p.m. on November 5.
The mission of the Commissioner of Political Practices is to monitor and enforce political practices for the transparency of all Montanans. Additional information about campaign finance disclosure requirements are available on the Commissioner of Political Practices’ website.