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By AMY BETH HANSON, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A recent review of Montana's voter registration system found that there were nearly 500 deceased people still on the voter rolls, but no evidence that any of them had voted, according to legislative auditors.

However, the auditors said they omitted certain findings about the state's election security system from the report because it “could be used by malicious actors to undermine election security and voter confidence.

” Critical findings were discussed with Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, auditors said.

The election security and voter registration audit is one of several that will be discussed by the Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 6.

The issue of election security came to the forefront after the Department of Justice found the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Since 2018, Montana has received $6.1 million in federal Help America Vote Act grants to improve election administration standards. Montana spent $2.1 million to improve its voter registration system.

Auditors compared updates to the voter registration system since 2015 with a death index file from the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and found 493 matches with deceased individuals who were still listed among registered voters. Counties receive the death lists and update their own voter rolls.

Of the 4.6 million ballots case in various elections since 2010, auditors found two situations in which it appeared ballots had been accepted after a voter's death. However, one case involved a man who had the same name as his late father and inadvertently voted his father's ballot in seven different elections. The man did not vote twice, auditors said.

The other case was an input error by a clerk's office that incorrectly made it appear a deceased person had voted, auditors said.

Auditors recommended, and Stapleton agreed, that his office needs to better communicate with county offices and ensure they are updating voter rolls on a timely basis. Auditors also recommended Stapleton's office set clear expectations and timelines for projects funded by federal Help America Vote Act grants.

The Montana Legislature should pass a law that defines election security and creates a formal process to assess security measures, auditors recommended, and lawmakers could take some role in the oversight of the federal election security grants if they wanted to.

The Secretary of State's Office should also hire a Information Security Manager to manage security for the entire office, noting the position had been open since 2017, auditors said. In early August, the agency was advertising for an IT Security Analyst, Stapleton wrote in response to the audit.

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Voter Reminder Notice Causes Confusion, But Ballots Will Come In The Mail, Officials Say

CHICAGO (CBS) — Election office phones are ringing off the hook because of a letter sent by the Secretary of State’s office this week.  It has voters worried about the status of their vote-by-mail application.

Election law required the Secretary of State’s office to send the letter as a reminder. But it’s causing confusion, because, as CBS 2’s Tara Molina found, there’s a gap in the voter information reported to them.

Like so many others, Janet Campbell plans to vote by mail in Illinois. She’s already submitted her vote-by-mail application. So, when she got a letter indicating she didn’t, she panicked.

“Between the mail, and who knows what, I’m not going to be able to vote?” Campbell said. “I’m afraid that this election is going to be fraught with all these problems.”

She was relieved immediately after calling her local election authority. “He was able to tell me that both my husband and I are going to receive our ballots.”

CBS 2 heard from others with the exact same concerns. Molina reached out to the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office to see why people, who’ve already submitted their vote-by-mail applications, are getting the notices.

A spokesperson said the letters were sent to anyone who had not returned their application by Aug. 26, leaving a weeks long gap in the information reported to the Secretary of State’s office. They say roughly 700,000 applications have been received since they reported that information, including applications like Janet’s.

Any voter who had sent in a ballot application before getting the letter, can ignore it. They will get a ballot. Voters also still have time to send in an application.

A spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office said they’re required to send another letter by Oct. 15. Again, the letter is only a reminder and if you don’t want to vote by mail, you can ignore it.

This story was produced, in part, with the help of journalists at Electionland, a project from the non-profit news organization, ProPublica. If you are having trouble voting, Electionland wants to hear from you. 

Here is more information about how mail in voting will be conducted in Illinois:

Under the election law in place for the 2020 general election, 6.4 million vote-by-mail applications were sent by local election authorities to voters who had voted in either the 2018 general, 2019 consolidated or 2020 primary election. Those had to mailed by Aug. 1.

The law then required the Secretary of State’s Office to send a reminder by Sept. 15 to any voter who had received but had not returned their vote-by-mail application. Those reminders started arriving this week.

The mailing list for the Sept. 15 reminder was compiled from information provided to the Illinois State Board of Elections from the state’s 108 local election authorities between Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. Because of this, voters who returned their vote-by-mail ballots after Aug. 26 (and definitely after Sept. 2) may have received this reminder mailing. (Roughly 700,000 applications have been received since Aug. 26.)

Voters who have already returned and confirmed receipt of their vote-by-mail application can disregard this week’s mailing. Voters who have returned their vote-by-mail application but have not received confirmation should contact their local election authority to obtain the status of their ballot request. Contact information for local election authorities can be found at https://www.elections.il.gov/ElectionOperations/ElectionAuthorities.aspx?MID=cQHxtxVEmuo%3d&T=637360430953595477.

Voters who do not wish to vote by mail also can disregard this week’s reminder. However, they will also receive a second letter from the Secretary of State sometime after Oct. 15, as the election law also requires a second reminder to be mailed by that date to anyone who received but has not returned a vote-by-mail application.

Local election authorities will begin sending ballots to voters who requested them on Sept. 24, which is also the first day of early voting in Illinois. So far, more than 1.7 million Illinois voters – 21 percent of all 8.01 million registered voters in the state – have requested vote-by-mail ballots.

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