Montana Democratic Party executive director Art Noonan says this week's challenges of voter residency by his Republican counterpart Jacob Eaton represent a direct attempt to intimidate and suppress Democratic and Native American voters. He also told me that his party recently conducted a 56-county survey of election supervisors and concluded that there are no concerns about voter lists, the registration process or anything else regarding Montana elections.
Noonan told me the party is reviewing legal options and might try to halt the challenges of some 6,000 voters in seven counties. However, time is running out since county election officials have until Monday to mail notification letters to affected voters. Noonan also said Democrats might offer to help voters cope with the challenges. In Missoula County, voters who have been challenged must fill out a residency affidavit, get it notarized (which some associates have told me is the most challenging part of the process) and send it back to the county. Then, voters who have changed their residence must re-register in the precinct, county, or state to which they've moved.
Eaton has said the challenges are a direct response to Governor Brian Schweitzer's remarks to an audience of lawyers in Philadelphia that he influenced the outcome of the 2006 U.S. Senate election. The governor has apologized for those remarks, saying they were a joke. Noonan says the GOP simply is using the remarks as an excuse to target voters in Democratic counties and, rather than embarrassing the governor, is embarrassing Secretary of State--and fellow Republican--Brad Johnson. Noonan says since Johnson is the state's top election official, is responsible for the voter registration system now in place, and was responsible for certifying the 2006 vote, the challenges and the rationale for them are slaps in the face.
With Republican Roy Brown now basing a television campaign ad on Schweitzer's Philadelphia remarks, expect this issue to come up the next time the two face off.
By the way, full interviews with Missoula County elections administrator Vickie Zeier, Jacob Eaton and Art Noonan will be posted on the KPAX website later today.