Researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth University crossed the line recently, sending material to voters that appeared to be official campaign mailings, and which judged where prospective candidates in California, Montana and New Hampshire stood in the political spectrum. That action may have violated both university policy and state laws, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
On Tuesday, the universities apologized to 100,000 Montana voters who received at least one of the mailers, which exhibited a state seal. That mailer showed four Montana state Supreme Court justices running for what are supposed to be nonpartisan offices. The mailer compared their positions to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, stating, “Take this to the polls!”
Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch lodged a complaint late last week with Montana’s state’s commissioner of political practices. She asserted that several state laws may have been broken when the mailers were distributed.
The researchers were affiliated with the nonpartisan political science study Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections. 143,000 voters in California and 66,000 in New Hampshire also received mailers similar to the ones distributed in Montana. The mailers featured a statement saying that they are part of a “joint research project” at the universities, but the statement was in fine print.
The Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections website states:
If you received a flyer regarding candidate positioning in Montana or California, it is part of joint Stanford/Dartmouth academic study on the impact of information about candidate positioning on turnout and ballot roll-off in congressional primaries, judicial elections, and other contests where voters are unable to distinguish between candidates on the basis of partisan affiliation.