Montana Senate President Scott Sales is traveling around Montana seeking votes in his bid to become Secretary of State.
One of the main responsibilities of the job he seeks is overseeing the election process.
So, as he travels to all corners of the vast state, he’s trying to meet with all 56 clerk and recorders, those directly in charge of elections. On Monday, he met with the 35th and 36th clerk and recorders from Hill and Blaine counties.
Sales, a state senator from Bozeman, was in Havre for the annual Hill and Blaine County Republican Dinner on Sunday night. He spoke to The Havre Herald staff on Monday.
After talking to local officials, he came away optimistic.
Incumbent Secretary of State Corey Stapleton indicated last year that he was concerned about widespread fraud in the electoral system.
While vowing to maintain “the integrity and security” of Montana’s election system, Sales said meeting with the local officials reassures him. Sales said he is sure there is some “gaming of the system,” comparing it to paying taxes, but the election system is safe, secure and impossible to hack.
He praised the clerk and recorders and their staffs for their work and impartiality in administering the elections.
Still, Sales favors stricter requirements for voting.
Echoing a common Republican stance, Sales said he would like to see the deadline for voter registration pushed back to the Friday before the Tuesday election. People can now register to vote at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Election Day, which he said causes confusion at the offices on the busiest day of the year.
While Democrats have contended that the move to eliminate same-day registration will make it harder for some people to vote, Sales said it is not too much to ask people to register ahead of time.
He said he thinks the Montana Legislature made a mistake when it put the matter up for a referendum in 2013. In the 2014 election, voters opposed the elimination of same-day registration.
He said he feels the legislature did not explain to voters why same-day registration should be discontinued, while supporters spent time and money in supporting their cause.
Sales also favors showing picture ID requirements at the polling places.
Sales has served 16 of the last 18 years in the Montana Legislature — eight in the House and eight in the Senate.
He is the only person in Montana history to be President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.
During his time in the legislature, he has built up a wide network of contacts. A total of 120 present and former lawmakers support his candidacy.
Since his supporters come from throughout the state, he said they are invaluable in getting the word out about his candidacy.
That kind of support is helpful in down-ballot races that don’t generate as much media attention, like the race for governor or the U.S. Senate.
He praised Stapleton for reducing the size of the staff and the budget, saying that reduction represents his conservative values.
Sales said he would favor streamlining the department while offering the best possible customer service.
He has had a varied career outside of politics, having spent nearly 20 years in high-tech roles with Hewlett-Packard and Extended Services. He has been involved in Cottonwood Custom Haying since 1994 and holds a professional hunting guide license.
That combination, plus his political background, provides unmatched experience, he said, making him the best qualified for the Secretary of State job.
He said during his legislative career, though he was a proud conservative and Republican, he worked with and respected many from the other side of the aisle. That kind of experience would be helpful in the Secretary of State’s office, he said.
“I don’t think you want a highly partisan person in there,” he added.
Sales’ primary opponents are Bowen Greenwood, Christi Jacobsen, and Forrest Mandeville.
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Write to John Kelleher at [email protected]