HELENA – Republican state superintendent of public instruction candidate Sandy Welch asked a state judge Monday to order a recount in her narrow Nov. 6 loss to Democrat Denise Juneau, alleging an “accumulation of errors” in vote counting statewide.
The request from Welch sets up a hearing Friday before District Judge Stewart Stadler of Kalispell, who will decide whether and how the manual recount will occur. Welch lives in Martin City in Flathead County.
“There is the likelihood that ballots weren’t counted correctly, whether it’s human error or mechanical error,” Welch said in an interview. “I think there is an accumulation of errors that could certainly change the outcome of the election.”
The final, official count of Nov. 6 balloting has Juneau winning by a 2,231-vote margin, out of nearly 468,600 votes cast.
A recount cannot be requested unless the final margin is less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast. The margin in the Welch-Juneau race is about 0.48 percent.
Welch could have automatically forced a recount Monday by making a formal request to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, the state’s chief election officer.
Instead, she chose to take the issue before a judge, who must find “probable cause” that an erroneous count occurred on Nov. 6, before ordering the recount.
If the judge orders a recount, election officials in each of Montana’s 56 counties will conduct a manual, hand count of all ballots, which are being held at county election offices.
Welch’s 17-page application outlined numerous examples of alleged vote-counting errors across the state on Nov. 6, including ballots jamming in electronic counting machines, re-marking of ballots that were run through machines multiple times, failure to give voters new ballots to replace “spoiled ballots,” and ballots that weren’t officially stamped.
“There was just so much happening, that our votes weren’t counted consistently across the state,” Welch said.
Welch is responsible for paying the recount cost, which has been estimated at $115,000. She said she believes the cost will be lower.
She said the state and national Republican parties will help pay for the recount, as well as individual donors, whose identity will be reported to the state political practices commissioner.
Listed as lead counsel on Welch’s application is James Bopp of Terre Haute, Ind., a prominent lawyer who has successfully attacked campaign finance limitations throughout the nation. He was one of the original lawyers for Citizens United, the group whose legal challenge led to the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said corporations and unions can spend money directly from their treasury to influence elections.
Welch said Bopp is the lawyer hired by the Republican National Committee to work on the case.
Juneau and McCulloch also will have their lawyers at Friday’s hearing.
“If the court decides there should be a recount, we’re prepared to ensure that everything goes smoothly,” said Alex Corcoran, campaign manager for Juneau. “We are confident that Denise will maintain her lead.”
Welch asked the judge to allow her campaign representative to witness the recount and be allowed to challenge any decision by a local recount board on whether to count disputed ballots. She also asked for a post-recount hearing where she could challenge the decision on counting any ballots.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.