Missoula’s elections supervisor vindicated by recount, frustrated by claims of fraud
After answering several records requests and two recounts over the past year, Missoula County's elections supervisor on Tuesday praised the work of his staff, saying their diligence and accuracy had withstood recent scrutiny.
But one group of opponents on Tuesday also sent a letter to Secretary of State Christi Jacobson asking her to investigate alleged errors.
In a meeting with county commissioners, Elections Administrator Bradly Seaman said his office was vindicated by the recent recount of affirmation envelopes – a process that was funded by the Missoula Republican Central Committee and which found an error rate of just 0.09%.
That was far less than allegations waged by a private group of local citizens.
“It was refreshing to come through the most recent records request,” Seaman said. “Through these records requests we've had over the last couple years, it has placed scrutiny on the specific work our staff does in verifying signature envelopes, tracking them and being accountable through them.”
More than a year ago, Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, led a group of citizens in alleging widespread voting discrepancies. The group claimed that it had uncovered a difference of 4,600 envelopes in Missoula's 2020 election after performing its own hand count.
The allegations simmered within some conservative circles and, last month, it prompted the Missoula Republican Central Committee to pay to have election officials recount those same affirmation envelopes.
The results found a difference of just 71 envelopes, not the 4,600 envelopes alleged by Tschida's group.
“It is a direct challenge against the entirety of our department. Your friends, neighbors and family members are working diligently with our office to make sure our elections are safe, secure and accurate," Seaman said. "It's been a little bit of a rough year the last year with unfounded allegations of voter fraud.”
While the matter appeared settled after the GOP funded recount, the group led by Tschida leveled new allegations of fraud on Monday. It now claims that the elections office provided the GOP recount 33 boxes of affirmation envelopes while his group was provided just 31 boxes.
The group, which calls itself the Integrity Project, asked Jacobson to investigate in a letter sent to her office on Tuesday.
"The Integrity Project can only speculate about the origins of the County’s additional and unexplained “two extra boxes” of affirmation envelopes," they wrote. "It is incumbent upon your office (Jacobson) to investigate the Missoula County Election Office errors as the public continues to have deep seated concerns about the 2020 election."
Seaman on Tuesday focused on the results of the GOP recount, not Tschida's latest claims.
“Coming out of this with a 100ths-of-a-percentage-point error rate in our recent records request mirrors the hard work that we do throughout the election,” he said. “We're working right now to prepare ballots for the upcoming election.”
Tschida and other Republicans, which hold a statewide majority, passed several bills during the 2021 Legislature to restrict voting or voter registration. The measures included stricter voter ID requirements, eliminating Election Day voter-registration, forbidding voter-registration drives on certain parts of state college campuses, and restricting who can collect or distribute ballots.
All of those laws are being challenged in court as unconstitutional. Elections officials across the state are watching Helena for a new litany of bills directed at the state's voting process in next year's Legislature.
“With many of these groups, no amount of facts, education or evidence is going to sway them from their beliefs,” Seaman said. “The only way to help quiet these fears of widespread fraud is education and a unified message from the chief elections official in every county office.”