Stanford apologizes to Montana voters for fake mailer

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A joint political science study by Stanford and Dartmouth College researchers may have violated University policy and state laws for its use of Montana’s official state seal on campaign mailers that ranked the political ideology of nonpartisan state Supreme Court candidates.

The schools have issued a joint apology to the 100,000 Montana voters that received the mailers and independent investigations are underway by Stanford and the state of Montana as to the use of the state’s seal which cannot be used in campaign literature.

The study, led by Stanford political science researchers Adam Bonica and Jonathan Rodden as well as Dartmouth’s Kyle Dropp focused on whether voters with partisan information on candidates are more likely to vote in nonpartisan elections. Stanford and a Hewlett Foundation grant funded the project.

The study’s mailers, labeled the “2014 Montana General Election Voter Guide,” displayed the official state seal of Montana and the names of state Supreme Court justices running for nonpartisan offices ranked on a spectrum of liberal to conservative ideology with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as markers.

State officials expressed concern over the researchers’ use of official-looking materials that could instill partisanship in a strictly nonpartisan race.

While the Dartmouth Institutional Review Board approved the independent study, the open letter apology signed by both Stanford President John Hennessy and Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon states that research proposal was not submitted to Stanford’s Institutional Review Board, thereby violating University policy.

The open letter added that both schools are cooperating with inquiries by Montana state officials over all aspects of the study.

Similar informational mailers were sent to California and New Hampshire voters though they have generated far less of an uproar. Regardless, Stanford plans to reach out to California voters who received the mailers as part of the study, according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News.

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Ileana Najarro is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She previously worked as a News Desk Editor and Staff Writer.