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Missoula County, elections sup defend voting process, call legislator’s claims ‘baseless’

Missoula County Election Line
Missoula County Election Line
Posted at 10:14 AM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 12:14:27-04

MISSOULA — In two separate letters, Missoula County commissioners and the county’s elections administrator are fiercely defending the county’s election process, and have challenged any claims otherwise to be debated in court under sworn testimony rather than “baseless” allegations made before the Legislature.

The issue began last month when attorney Quentin Rhodes and Rep. Brad Tschida made claims suggesting that a number of irregularities occurred around the last election in Missoula – claims that included envelopes without dates and missing affirmation envelopes.

Tschida’s claims have since been given more detail, including nearly 4,600 missing affirmation envelopes, 55 envelopes without dates, and 53 envelopes lacking a checked signature, among others.

“In the next week or two, there will be some information coming out that verifies that information,” the Montana Free Press quoted Tschida as saying on the House floor. “So when we say there’s no fraudulent activities or activities of wrongdoing, in two weeks you’re going to have a much clearer picture of how easy that is to allow to take place.”

Missoula County has disputed Tschida’s claims as a baseless attempt to undermine voter confidence in the electoral process and win favor “when they push for voter suppression legislation that would rob certain segments of the population of their right to vote.

The county sent a letter to Secretary of State Christi Jacobson on April 1 stating their concerns.

“If those making these claims sincerely believe them to be true, we ask that you advise them to bring the allegations to a court of law, where they can state their case under oath rather than bringing them to the Legislature, where neither your office nor ours will be able to present facts … to a neutral party,” the county wrote in a letter to Jacobson. “We … welcome the opportunity to prove, under oath, that this election was free, fair and accurate.”

Commissioners last week said Jacobson, a Republican, has not yet responded to their letter.

“We hope to hear from her,” said the county’s chief operating officer Anne Hughes. “We’re also working on a follow-up letter we hope to circulate soon.”

Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman is also defending the county’s election process. In his own letter to Jacobson, sent last week, he requested a meeting with the Secretary of State to set the record straight.

In making the request, Seaman also disputed Tschida’s claims in detail, including the 4,592 affirmation envelopes alleged to be missing. Affirmation envelopes are tied to the Secretary of State’s own webpage with a bar code and must be signed by the voter as part of the verification process.

When Tschida’s group hand-counted the affirmation envelopes, Seaman said they did so only once and had no process in place to verify their accuracy. As a result, their numbers were off.

“When notified that their total was incorrect, they chose not to count them again or pursue another way to verify accuracy,” Seaman said. “Their total also does not take into account the hundreds of restricted envelopes and electronically submitted ballots from overseas voters, which do not have affirmation envelopes.”

Missoula County Election Line
Missoula County voters wait in line to case a ballot on Election Day.

Tschida’s group also claims that 55 envelopes didn’t have dates. But Seaman said that commonly results when voters hand-deliver their ballots to election officials in person, thus avoiding any post mark.

On that issue, Seaman added, “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.”

Rhodes, an attorney retained by Tschida before the November election, has circulated to area media a conservative op-ed by John Lott Jr. attacking Seaman and the county’s election process.

The editorial fits recent conservative efforts to attack mail-in voting and raise questions around the integrity of the electoral process in general.

“The Biden administration, the Democrat-controlled Congress, and the Democratic National Committee are collectively pressing to both nationalize, and make permanent, many of the extraordinary pandemic-driven voting measures implemented during the 2020 election – particularly mass mail-in voting,” Lott wrote, “Political leaders and prominent media outlets have dismissed concerns raised by critics that such measures invite voter fraud.”

Missoula County said it welcomes any and all reviews. It has also dismissed allegations made by Tschida and his group as a smear campaign intended to raise doubt among voters.

“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,” the county said.