Missoula’s elections administrator apologizes to GOP committee chair for omitting races
The Missoula County elections administrator issued a mea culpa to the chair of the Missoula County Republican Central Committee on Thursday, saying he was to blame for inadvertently omitting two precinct races from this week's primary ballot.
Elections administrator Bradley Seaman told committee chair Vondene Kopetski that the race for precinct committeeman of the Lewis and Clark 90W Precinct, and precinct committeewoman of the Hellgate 96E Precinct, were accidentally left off the ballot.
The precinct chairs - one man and one woman - help shape the party platform. They're considered partisan offices within the parties. Seaman said the omission was discovered Monday, the day before the primary, and there wasn't enough time to correct the error.
“The responsibility of this error lies solely on myself,” Seaman wrote Kopetski. “Moving forward, I am making arrangements to institute new preventative measures for both parties’ precinct races to help ensure that no omission occurs again.”
Seaman said the county is willing to hold a special election for the two omitted precinct races at the county's expense - one that hasn't been determined. Doing so would include preparing ballots and ensuring they are issued to registered voters within the two precincts.
However, he said, given Montana's open primary and secret ballots, the county will have to issue ballots to all registered voters within the two precincts, including Democrats, even though the seats are Republican. There is no way to identify which voters returned a Democratic or Republican primary ballot, he said.
“We would be happy to send out ballots for those omitted races for the precincts, or they can run an election independently,” Seaman told the Missoula Current. “We reached out to them with that letter today, needing to confirm with our county attorneys the available options. We asked to be notified by (June 24).”
If Missoula County doesn't issue ballots within a reasonably short amount of time, he said, the next available opportunity to conduct a precinct chairperson election would be the 2024 primary.
“We work to run these races in coordination with the primary election for the parties,” he said.
The incidental omission of the two precinct races comes just months after the Missoula County Elections Office was vindicated by a recount of affirmation envelopes funded by the local Republic Central Committee.
The recount was held after a group of private citizens alleged widespread voting discrepancies in Missoula's 2020 election. Those claims were proven false by the recount, which found an error rate of just 0.09%.
Seaman said his office runs on accountability and transparency, and he wasn't concerned that the omission of the precinct races would rekindle any false allegations.
“It shows the big difference between some of those opinion articles and allegations that were made and when there's a true error in elections – you're going to hear about it from our office,” he said.
“We're going to let you know how we can remedy it and how we can prevent it. We go through a very public and transparent process. We use some of those allegations and misinformation to educate the public on how elections truly work.”