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Politics Pop: Missoula County protests GOP election claims

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Accusations by a local GOP group questioning the accuracy of Missoula County's 2020 election resulted in a flurry of charges and counter-charges last week.

The group contends what they found could have changed the outcome of the election in certain races. The county contends its procedures were solid and would stand up in court if challenged. The Missoulian detailed the claims in its April 3 edition.

On Friday, the county released a letter sent from Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman to Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, as well as a claims and facts sheet regarding specific issues raised by the group.

In the letter, Seaman asked for a meeting with Jacobsen.

"As these allegations have needlessly undermined confidence in the election process, I am hoping to work with you and your office to restore this faith for Montana voters," Seaman wrote. 

"It would benefit voters across the state for Missoula County to continue to collaborate with your office to provide education on how the policies and procedures currently in law ensure election integrity," he added.

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, the GOP group's leader, sent a letter outlining his concerns to Jacobsen on March 22.

Around a week later, the Missoula County commissioners sent a letter to Jacobsen that blasted those concerns. They characterized Rep. Tschida's accusations as an insult to the county's election judges and voters.

The informational sheet included with Seaman's letter to Jacobsen last week said the GOP group miscounted the 4,592 affirmation envelopes they say were missing. It also said they did not count restricted envelopes — which were not available as part of the request — as well as electronically submitted ballots, which would not have had affirmation envelopes.

Rep. Tschida's group also said 55 envelopes did not have dates, 53 did not have signatures checked and that 28 came from the same address and appeared to have the same signature. The county said many voters submitted ballots in person, which means the affirmation envelopes would not have had postmarked dates. Signatures were verified on all affirmation envelopes, and the records reviewers did not set aside the 28 they felt had the same signature.

"This calls into question their basic understanding of the process and the accuracy of their allegations, and it underscores their intent to mislead voters with confusing information," the fact sheet reads.

Rep. Tschida, responded Friday via email. It was the first time Rep. Tschida's office has commented to the Missoulian on the claims his group has made.

"The accusation by County Commissioners that the counters are unqualified is an abject insult of the talents of these citizens," Rep. Tschida wrote. "If the commissioners had sufficient decency, they would not have made such a claim."

AC Hotel project 

The Missoula City Council's Administration and Finance Committee approved the issuance and sale of $1,886,105 worth of bonds to reimburse the costs of some improvements associated with the AC Hotel project in downtown Missoula.

The measure passed 8-3 in the committee, with John Contos, Jesse Ramos and Sandra Vasecka voting against. 

The council approved a resolution of intent for the project in May of 2019, designating it an urban renewal project and opening the doorway for tax increment funding to be used to reimburse the developers.

The AC, run by Marriott Hotels, has been completed. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency recommended around $1.2 million of the money go toward reimbursing developers for recycling and reusing of materials at the site, with the rest for right of way improvements and utility relocations they made. 

Missoula has had both new businesses open and old ones reopen in 2021.

"It is a great addition to downtown Missoula and reinforces the downtown as a business and hospitality hub. The transformation of Main and Front Streets has been truly remarkable and demonstrates the benefits of having Tax Increment Financing available as a tool to facilitate private investment in our community," Missoula Redevelopment Agency director Ellen Buchanan said to council in a memo.

Columbia Falls grant

Columbia Falls will receive a $633,146 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, a news release said.

The money will be used to build water and sewer infrastructure, as well as facilitate road improvements. The grant will be matched by local investment and the release said it is expected to help create 70 jobs and generate $5.8 million in private investment.

Specifically, the project will help reconstruct part of 12th Avenue West in Columbia Falls and connect a business park with water and sewer services.

“The Economic Development Administration plays an important role in helping communities implement their plans to provide the vital infrastructure that businesses need to be successful,” Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary for economic development, said in the release. “This EDA investment will accommodate the expansion of an innovative manufacturing firm and the Cedar Palace Medical Center and will help attract new businesses to the region.”

Both Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines added comments of support for the project.

Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Contact him on Twitter @jordyhansen or via email at Jordan.Hansen@Missoulian.com

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