MISSOULA – It’s been almost nine months since the 2020 election, but in Missoula County a Republican-led group is still fighting with local election officials over alleged ‘discrepancies’ in the ballot count – allegations which county officials say are redundant.
“We have the (voting) envelopes, we have the documentation; there is no such error, ”Missoula County Election Administrator Bradley Seaman told MTN News.
The GOP-led group, calling itself the Missoula County Election Integrity Project, has made several allegations of problems with mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election – including one suggesting that nearly 4,600 ballots , or 6% of the total votes cast, are unrelated to registered voters.
Although county election officials refuted these claims, the group continued to make numerous requests for ballot records, insisting that questions about the vote count were not fully answered.
“We just want to know how many ballots were brought in, how many ballots were mailed and how many ballots were kept,” said state representative Brad Tschida, a Republican from Missoula at the head of the effort. “And what was the chain of custody for those ballots, so that we could say without a doubt that there was no problem with the election.”
Even former President Donald Trump – who continues to make bogus and disproved claims about a “stolen election” – weighed in on the Missoula election battle, mentioning the claims of local Republicans in his June 26 speech in Ohio.
“In Montana, over 6 percent of a certain county’s mail-in ballots lack evidence to prove they were legitimate or not,” he said.
Missoula County officials say they are happy to provide public documents, as permitted by law, and ask anyone to review their counting and security procedures.
But they have also reached a point where they say that if Tschida and members of his group believe voting irregularities have occurred, they should take legal action to court – where there is evidence to show the allegations are false.
“This is an area where, if there is really an error, it would be raised and challenged in court,” Seaman said. “It was not done because there is no basis behind these allegations.”
“We have no reason to believe there has been any problem,” added Missoula County Commission Chairman David Strohmaier.
Tschida said the Election Integrity Project was funded by private donations from “ordinary citizens,” who had questions about the counting passed in Missoula County, a Democratic stronghold.
Last October, Tschida and Missoula’s attorney, Quentin Rhoades, first contacted Seaman to inquire about the process for modifying ballots, and then also to display and count all the “affirmation” envelopes related to the ballots. mail-in ballots for the 2020 general election, which took place in November. 3.
Like most counties in Montana, Missoula County held a postal election last year during the Covid-19 pandemic, sending out ballots to every active registered voter. When these votes are returned, the “affirmation” envelope is signed by the voter and contains the actual ballot, which is inside a “secret envelope” sealed inside the ballot. envelope of affirmation.
Election officials check the signature on the affirmation envelope to ensure it matches that of the registered voter who received the ballot. These envelopes also have a bar code unique to that voter.
Once the signature of the affirmation envelope is confirmed and verified against a statewide database of registered voters, the secret envelope is removed and stored in a secure room, until that the ballots are extracted and counted, in order to preserve the secrecy of the votes of the people.
Tschida said his group wanted to count affirmation envelopes to see if the number of signed envelopes matched the number of votes cast, to ensure that no “fraudulent votes” were inserted into the process and counted. .
This count finally took place on January 4 in a building at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, by 20 volunteers assembled by Tschida’s group. Seaman and other county election officials were on hand to make sure the envelopes did not leave their custody.
Tschida said the group counted 67,899 envelopes – 4,592 less than the total number of 72,491 ballots counted.
This discrepancy indicates that several thousand ballots had no proven connection to a specific registered voter, or chain of custody, and the county did not explain the difference, Tschida told MTN News earlier this month. this.
Seaman told MTN News the county validated all the counted ballots and the counters in Tschida must have made a mistake.
Seaman explained that 673 ballots did not have an affirmation envelope because they are electronic ballots or other ballots from voters living abroad, Seaman says. Another 35 are from voters whose affirmation envelopes are not allowed to be seen by the public, such as undercover police officers.
Regarding the 3,884 allegedly missing affirmation envelopes – Seaman says this is not possible, as ballots are only accepted if they have an affirmation envelope with a verified voter signature .
Envelopes and ballots go through a multi-level verification and re-verification process, including against a statewide voter database, and the result is certified by the county. and the state, he said.
“This discrepancy was not found during the survey, was not found by observers who were present in several areas here,” Seaman told MTN News. “We have a list of every affirmation envelope that we have duly certified.”
Tschida says if the county believes its numbers are correct, it should accept a “forensic audit” to determine the difference. Seaman says that would require a court order – and that the county already carried out a post-election audit, last November, where no such deviations were found.
Tschida’s group made requests for additional registrations in May and June, including one for the ballot order form for the November 2020 elections, the unused ballots, a list of every voter in the county, the ballot stub number and the original ballot stubs.
He says these latest requests are just another attempt to verify that no invalid ballots were cast.
The unused ballots and original ballot stubs require a court order, Seaman says, and the county plans to respond to the remaining requests this month.
However, Seaman says the requests “continue with this false account that there have been widespread irregularities” and that the county is asking Tschida’s group to prepay staff time to comply with the requests.
Tschida says he feels the group is “walking slowly” through the county, which wants to take the case to court, rather than producing documents in a timely manner.
“I understand we can do things legally, but is that the only answer? ” he says. “To me, it’s almost a tacit admission of ‘We don’t want you to easily find out what is public record and public knowledge,’ so they deny us that.”
Seaman believes the county has been responsive, but it’s time for his office to start working on procedures and preparations for the next election – and that the 2020 process was open, secure and precise.
“We have public observers almost every moment of our election,” he said. “None of the people who are here watching the process have had a problem. We go above and beyond to be open, ensuring that all of our practices and processes are open to the public. “