Tschida levies new accusations against Missoula County elections; officials say he’s grasping straws
Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:15 p.m. to add a statement from Missoula County.
Less than a week after the local Republican Central Committee funded a recount of affirmation envelopes in Missoula County and seemingly put allegations voiced by a private group to rest, members of that group are now suggesting potential fraud.
Members of the so-called “Integrity Project” led by Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, suggested on Monday that last week's recount of affirmation envelopes stemming from the 2020 General Election produced two additional boxes of envelopes, which weren't provided to members of his group during its own recount in January 2021.
Either the county is “incompetent,” Tschida alleges in his latest claims, or “counterfeit” envelopes were produced to cover up errors within the Missoula County Elections Office. Missoula County commissioners said Tschida was simply trying to save face for past accusations that were proven false.
In a sworn affidavit notarized and filed with the county on Monday, Integrity Project member Lyn Hellegaard said she oversaw her group's January 2021 recount of affirmation envelopes. She said the process resulted in 63 tally sheets which correlated to 31 boxes.
However, she and other members of the Integrity Project said the local Republican Central Committee was provided 33 numbered boxes of affirmation envelopes during its March recount.
The results, Hellegaard alleges, means the Elections Office provided her group with two fewer boxes of affirmation envelopes when compared to what was provided to the Republican Central Committee in March.
Rep. Brad Tschida, who helped organize and lead the “Integrity Group,” said the two additional boxes have rekindled the suspicions of his members. He's now suggesting two boxes of envelopes have suddenly appeared.
“It could mean that the Election Office is merely incompetent and lost track of the two boxes,” he said in a statement released on Monday with Hellegaard's sworn affidavit.
“If this is the case, a written chain of custody should exist in county records to establish when the lost boxes disappeared and when and where they were found. We call on the Elections Office to release the chain of custody to the public.”
Tschida's other suspicion is more nefarious, suggesting intentional deceit on behalf of the county. In that possibility, he alleges, the two extra boxes of “counterfeit envelopes” were “generated deliberately by wrongdoers.”
“This revelation calls the Missoula County Elections Office into deeper question than before,” he said. “State-level officials must investigate the Missoula County Election Office errors as the public continues to have deep-seated concerns about the 2020 election.”
In a joint statement, all three Missoula County commissioners responded to the allegations on Monday afternoon.
"Brad Tschida had a year to contest the 2020 election in court but refused to do so. Now that his allegations are proven false, he's trying to save face by rehashing it in the media yet again. We refuse to engage in a back-in-forth with him as he grasps for straws. We also refuse to entertain his malicious accusations against our elections staff, no matter how sincerely he seems to believe them. Instead, we'll continue to focus on supporting our hard-working staff as they prepare to run another safe, secure and accurate election."
Tschida's group initially alleged that it had uncovered a difference of 4,600 envelopes during its January 2021 recount of envelopes stemming from the 2020 November election. But the Republican Central Committee found a discrepancy of just 71 envelopes in its March recount.
Tschida alluded to his group's allegations when arguing in favor of changes to state election laws during the 2021 legislative session. It also prompted several other Republican lawmakers to demand an investigation into statewide elections.
After last week's recount, Missoula Elections Administrator Bradly Seaman said the results proved that the county's elections were “safe and secure.”