Legislature looking to improve election security

By Elinor Smith | UM Legislative News Service, UM School of Journalism

HELENA – The House State Administration Committee heard testimony Jan. 16 on a bill that supporters say would improve the security of Montana’s elections.

House Bill 173 would require the manufacturer of vote counting machines to certify they are free of any external communication devices as well as assign felony legal penalties up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for tampering with the vote counting machines.

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Republican Rep. David Bedey from Hamilton sponsored the bill. 

“Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our constitutional republic and election security is essential if we are to maintain public confidence in the election process,” Bedey said.

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The bill had three proponents. Eric Bryson on behalf of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders says the bill will help clarify current law surrounding voting machines. 

“This doesn’t really change current practices, but it alleviates concerns that we heard over the last couple of sessions about connectivity to the devices that are used and authorized in Montana to the internet. And I think Representative Bedey’s bill accomplishes exactly what needs to be accomplished, clarifying what can and can’t be used,” Bryson said.

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There was one opponent of the bill, who said the machines should be certified by a neutral third party.  

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

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Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.