Prairie Lights: Voter fraud is just the tip of Stapleton’s iceberg

Last month, I had occasion to criticize Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who seemed to be determined to cast doubt on the validity of our election processes.

Ed Kemmick

I thought it was a strange goal, given that the secretary of state is the chief elections officer for Montana. I wondered, was it something like having Scott Pruitt lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which he seems bent on dismantling?

Maybe, but it’s not hard to imagine why some people might consider the EPA heavy-handed, and anyway Pruitt was appointed by President Trump, not selected by voting citizens.

But Stapleton was elected, and prior to his election I can’t think of many agencies of government that were as intrinsically admired as our county elections offices. Occasionally there were some glitches in the vote counting, and some years there were long lines at the voting booth, but nobody doubted the results once they were in.

Even when there were recounts, they served only to strengthen trust in elections, because they almost always demonstrated the soundness of the complicated process of collecting and accurately tallying votes. So I was baffled by Stapleton’s relentless harping on all the voter fraud that apparently only he could see.

Now, however, I get it. Stapleton cleared everything up last week, when he addressed a meeting of the Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders at Fairmont Hot Springs.

He was reported to have said, “We’ve got to acknowledge that if we live in a state that has never … prosecuted and convicted voter fraud, then we might have a bias toward a system that doesn’t want to know that. I’m not trying to say that everything is rotted. I’ve never tried to say that. But what I’m saying is, you can’t rule that out.”

In other words, he is simply acting on the axiom that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Why blithely assume that because no one has ever been convicted of voter fraud, that there must be little or no fraud occurring?

Stapleton, like Socrates before him, wants to shake up our way of thinking, expand our minds, make us more open to possibilities we have resisted considering.

He wants to change the bias of our elections system to one that is constantly on the lookout for voter fraud, dedicated to prosecuting, convicting and pillorying those who would seek to change the direction of our country through fraudulent practices. People, for example, who would forge their spouse’s signature because it’s election day and he or she is still at work and forgot to vote on time, which has never happened in the Kemmick household.

Indeed, this approach would work just as well in countless other areas of government.

I did some looking and do you know that in our entire history, no one has ever been convicted of illegally killing a whale in Montana? Do you think no one has ever illegally killed a whale in Montana, or is it possible that Fish & Game has a bias toward not wanting to know whether such illicit harvesting has taken place?

Similarly, I found that no cosmetologist had ever been convicted of intentionally starting a client’s hair on fire. Could it be that the Board of Cosmetology is predisposed to assume that all incidents of pate-related wildfires resulted from accidental causes?I’m not saying the Board of Cosmetology is rotten through and through, but I certainly can’t rule that out.

And like all good Montana citizens, I want to believe that employees of the Montana Lottery are not taking home giant sacks of scratch cards every day and giving them out to friends and relatives. It would not be prudent to harbor such Pollyanna-like notions, however.

If we need TSA-style body monitors checking out the people leaving the Montana Lottery offices, let’s just admit it, rather than stumbling along in a daze of willful ignorance.

Lastly—and admittedly this is more a federal matter than one that concerns the state— is anyone else alarmed by the Border Patrol’s announcement last week that it had apprehended an undocumented Irishman trying to hike his way into the United States near Glacier National Park?

When I heard the news, my first reaction was to consider it jolly good fun. I mean, come on, one Irishman in a world with millions of refugees, with a U.S. president still threatening to build a multibillion-dollar wall along our southern border?

But think about it. If we live in a country that only very rarely interdicts migratory Irishmen, isn’t it time to ask ourselves whether our Border Patrol is biased in the direction of failing to acknowledge that there might be tens of thousands of Hibernians leaking through our northern border week after week?

Corey Stapleton is too good to be a mere secretary of state. President Trump would be doing all of us a great favor by appointing him to head the U.S. Border Patrol.

Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist since 1980. Except for four years in his home state of Minnesota, he has spent his entire journalism career in Montana, working in Missoula, Anaconda, Butte and Billings. “The Big Sky, By and By,” a collection of some of his newspaper stories and columns, plus a few essays and one short story, was published in 2011.