HELENA - A Democratic legislative candidate accused Lake County elections officials on Monday of illegally guessing about the intent of voters when they determined her legislative race ended in a tie, casting a cloud over who will control the state House.
In a document filed with the Montana Supreme Court, Jeanne Windham urged the justices to throw out seven contested ballots that had been counted as votes for Rick Jore, the Constitution Party candidate, and declare her the winner.
Since the disputed ballots had marks for both Jore and the Republican candidate in House District 12, they must be discarded according to the high court's own rulings and state administrative rules, Windham said.
"At best, it cannot be determined what each voter's choice might have been," her attorney Mike Meloy, wrote. "Any conclusion requires substantial, inappropriate speculation about the voter's intent."
In filing the petition directly with the Supreme Court, Windham said she hopes for a fast resolution to the dispute.
The outcome will dictate who controls the House in the 2005 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 3.
If the court sides with Windham and throws out the ballots, the 100-member House will be evenly split between the Republicans and Democrats. But a Democrat would hold the powerful speaker's job because the constitution requires the post be filled with someone from the governor's party when the House is tied. Gov.-elect Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, takes office two hours before the Legislature starts.
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If Windham loses or case, the race would remain tied and Republican Gov. Judy Martz would get to appoint the winner. She is likely to choose Jore, a fellow conservative, to preserve a 50-49 Republicans advantage.
Named in the petition were Jore, the Lake County election administrator and a panel of county officials that assigned the questioned ballots to Jore.
Lake County Attorney Bob Long declined to respond to the lawsuit Monday and Jore could not immediately be reached for comment.