Issues with Online-Only Policy Are No Concern

Montana Secretary of State Supports Discrimination

January 14, 2019

Well, I just spent about 30 minutes on the phone with Laurie Bakri from the Secretary of State's office, and then another 10 after she called me back. She informed me that my arguments were well thought out, but they were not relevant and would not be considered. The State has an on-line filing system and that is the required method of filing and they will not consider making any changes or considerations since there is no need for any consideration and there have been no other complaints about the system. They also will not consider making any alterations to their payment process requirements since there is no need to do so since everyone has access to a credit card.

The problems with this, of course, are that not everyone has internet access and not everyone has a credit card. And not only that, but not everyone cane have internet access and not everyone can have a credit card. In both of these cases, there are religious doctrines of certain faiths or practices that prohibit these - either by restricting use of banking or restricting use of technology. In addition, there are legal conditions that would prohibit some people from having internet access. Furthermore, in 2017, before this policy was enacted, The FCC ruled that the major telecommunications providers no longer have to maintain or replace non-profitable lines. This means that lines in rural areas, like most of Montana, could be abandoned without replacement. And that means that internet access, cell phone coverage, and even basic phone services may be reduced or even eliminated. But Mrs. Bakri assures me that none of these are of any concern.

Yes, that's right, the closest thing you can get to an official response from the Secretary Stapleton's office is that a policy that discriminates against business owners and potential business owners for religious reasons is not any concern. They're sticking with the policy as it stands.

She also informed me that they respond to all written correspondence received by mail with an email as soon as the letter is received and a phone call within 24 hours. She initially had no reason that I had not yet received any acknowledgment of the letter I sent that they received on November 19 of last year, but that that is why important correspondence should not be sent by mail - you have no way of knowing where it goes or when it gets there. I informed her that first, that was also true of email or phone calls, but that with mail it is the method used to insure and confirm delivery, and I had confirmation of delivery to the correct person. She, again, was shocked by this (the people I spoke to last February and March in the Secretary of State's office were also shocked that tracking mail was a thing...).

In her return call, Mrs. Bakri informed me that the reason I had not received a response is that while the letter was well thought out, detailed, and clear, it was only a request for an apology, and since the Secretary of State has done nothing wrong (in his eyes), he will not issue an apology. Since he is not issuing an apology, there is no way to respond to the letter...

This response was inconsiderate and unprofessional. While on the surface it seems polite and even appreciative, it is actually deceitful and disingenuous. How can I tell? Well anyone who read the letter would not come to the conclusion that it was just a request for an apology. It is quite clear that Mrs. Bakri did not read this letter, just as neither Secretary Corey Stapleton nor Mr. Joe Defilippis read my letter from last January. But also, to state that the Secretary of State's office has done nothing wrong is very questionable. The Secretary's office has implemented a policy that discriminates based on religion and disenfranchised people for a number of reasons, and they support this policy with recommendations of unsafe internet practices for business owners who can't immediately comply with the new policy. The Secretary of State definitely owes the people of Montana some apologies - and needs to get started on some damage control.

On the Secretary of State's web site currently it states:

As Montana's Business Officer, Secretary Stapleton is committed to giving the highest support for the small businesses which form the backbone of Montana's economy.

But the actual practice and process in place in Secretary Stapleton's office is exclusionary rather than supportive.

In the mean time, the only way to register your business or file your business's required annual report is through the Montana Secretary of State's online system and to pay by credit card - even it that is a violation of your religious beliefs, a violation of your parole, creates a financial hardship, or just isn't an option in your location.