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Opinion: Ensuring free, fair, accurate elections in Missoula County
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Opinion: Ensuring free, fair, accurate elections in Missoula County

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Recent allegations have called into question the integrity of Missoula County’s elections. While these baseless claims needlessly undermine our constituents’ faith in the local democratic process, we welcome the opportunity to educate voters on the processes in place to ensure free, fair and accurate elections in Missoula County.

When our Elections Office receives mail ballots during an election, staff begin a multi-step procedure to confirm the voter to whom a ballot was issued is the person who voted it. This includes verifying the signature on the affirmation envelope matches the signature on file, and contacting the voter if it does not. It also includes scanning the unique barcode on each affirmation envelope into the Montana Secretary of State's voter database, and then comparing those envelopes to a report generated by that database to verify each envelope listed as “accepted” is also physically present.

These are just two of several steps elections staff take to accurately account for affirmation envelopes received and to accurately tabulate the ballots they contain. Voters can review a more detailed outline of the process at missoula.co/electionintegrity.

Conversely, a recent public records review of voter affirmation envelopes failed to implement any sort of verification process. Instead, reviewers chose to hand-count affirmation envelopes a single time, without any sort of double-check process in place to confirm the accuracy of their count. As one might expect when counting more than 72,000 pieces of paper with no systematic method, their tabulation was inaccurate. The group could have determined the accuracy of their count by, for example, obtaining a report of voters who submitted ballots in the November election, which is a public record available through the Secretary of State’s Office. The list can then be verified by contacting each voter to confirm they submitted a ballot. This is time-intensive research, but it would produce a more accurate finding. The group choose not to pursue this or any other method of verification.

The Missoula County Elections Office does not rely on a single hand-count of affirmation envelopes to accurately report the number of them received. Doing so would be an insult to voters and to the integrity of our elections, and it’s an insult to voters to see lawmakers use this sloppy review of election records to perpetuate a predetermined narrative.

These claims also undermine the hard work of elections staff, both at the county and the Secretary of State’s Office, who followed established policies and procedures to certify the November election. If the Secretary of State’s Office determines these claims have merit and that a single hand-count of affirmation envelopes is more reliable than their own procedure to certify elections, that should seriously concern voters not only in Missoula County, but across Montana.

This haphazard review has also been intentionally mischaracterized as a “recount” or “audit.” Both of those terms are defined in statute and should not be used to deceive the public about what took place. But that’s exactly what the group pushing this narrative is doing, so they can make false claims of election fraud to provide cover when they push for voter suppression legislation that would rob certain segments of the population of their right to vote.

That’s why you won’t see them bring this to a court of law — because they can instead go to the Legislature, where witnesses are not under oath and can spout disinformation with no repercussions. If they truly believed their claims, they would challenge the election results in court, where Missoula County would welcome the opportunity to prove, under oath, that this election was free, fair and accurate.

This opinion is signed by the members of the Missoula County Board of Commissioners: David Strohmaier, chair; Josh Slotnick; and Juanita Vero. 

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