Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A Missoula District Court judge has determined that a lawsuit filed against the county failed to produce evidence proving the county elections office misused or wrongfully operated a voter database during the 2020 election.

The ruling is likely the last in what county officials described as another election conspiracy brought by a disgruntled voter who saw his preferred candidate voted out of office in the 2020 presidential election.

“We oftentimes here the phrase frivolous litigation. (The plaintiff) and his actions here embody that phrase,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “There's been way too much conspiracy theorists pondering the past few years over election integrity.”

In June of 2020, the so-called Missoula County Election Integrity Project – a Trump-backed think tank – and John Lott brought the initial complaint, claiming the county elections office was in violation of the 1960 Civil Rights Act.

As such, they asserted that the county was obligated to preserve “snapshot” changes to the voter database operated by the Montana Secretary of State. While the election integrity project eventually withdrew from the lawsuit, Lott pursued it regardless.

According to the court, mediation was held this August when Lott raised issues on whether video surveillance of the county elections office constituted election records. Whether the county retains and manages database records in compliance with state law was also raised.

“Lott and his current attorney agreed to dismiss claims on two of the questions but stayed with the election database issue,” said deputy county attorney Brian West. “The judge found that the county does comply with state law. It's the state's database, not the county's, and Lott's interpretation of the law was incorrect.”

The suit is one of several pieces of legal proceedings dating back to 2020 and, more recently, in 2022 when Lott and the election integrity project sought to sue the county over election issues, even after local Republicans found no evidence of fraud.

In that episode, Lott and other group members filed a complaint against the elections office in District Court for disposing video recordings of certain documents related to the 2020 vote count.

In its complaint, the integrity project said it notified the elections office that it wanted to use the vote-count video in its investigation of the Nov. 3 all-mail-in election. But when the integrity project sought the video, the elections office said it was no longer available.

The state requires elections offices to keep video for 30 days, and Missoula County’s own policy is to retain video for no more than 60 days to conserve bandwidth on its server, particularly after all meetings went online due to COVID.

That issues was already resolved in the county's favor and the last issue – that over the election database – is now resolved as well, unless Lott seeks an appeal. He has the remainder of the month to do so.

Lott couldn't be reached immediately on Thursday.

“If he chooses not to appeal the case, you won't be hearing from us anymore,” said West. “We feel fairly certain that if it is appealed, the judge's determination based on the facts presented would withstand any scrutiny.”

In his decision, District Court Judge John Larson wrote, "Plaintiff (Lott) has not produced evidence that Missoula County or its employees misused its limited access to this (state) database or operated those controls in an abuse of voter databases in 2020 or 2022."