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Ravalli County leaders hit with election security concerns

Posted at 4:16 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 19:07:56-04

HAMILTON - The 2022 special election season is already well underway. But the echoes of 2020 continue, and are now being heard in our local courthouses and they're informing election policy in the Bitterroot.

For nearly 18-months skepticism over the 2020 election results have been the focus of debate for some conservative voters. Now those fears have are finding their way to the courthouse.

Last week, Ravalli County leaders defended election integrity, but also entertained the idea of asking the Secretary of State for permission to do audits of local elections, in addition to the state and federal spot checks done by the state.

"It's not that I'm afraid of doing this guys," Elections Administrator Regina Plettenberg told the voters. "It's just that I'm being advised by attorneys, by the Secretary of State, it's just not allowed under current statute."

Deputy County Attorney Clay Leland believes it could be allowed if the Secretary of State would make a rule change.

"If they aren't willing to allow a county to expand, simply expand on do more than is required then it really raises the question of what are they hiding?"

But Friday's discussion went deeper into broader concerns over the use of voting tabulation machines.

"Because the technology today is so sharp that they can do anything to us. And we are naive enough to think that just by doing an audit that we're going to catch the criminals," Stevensville voter Terri Lackey told the commissioners as tears welled in her eyes.

"I'm a Montana native and I don't want to see Montana turn blue. I don't want to lose my gun rights and my conservative way of life. And it's a simple thing. We're just asking you to get rid of the machines. Just do a hand count. Please!" Lackey continued.

Another voter wearing a USA hat agreed.

"Where are the rights being removed? And we need to go back to there and we need to nullify unconstitutional laws."

Commissioners didn't share those fears, defending the county's process. Neither did Democrats. Ravalli County Democratic Chair Linda Schmitt said if anyone should be upset over election results it should be her party, given their difficulty of electing candidates in the Bitterroot.

"Some of you I am worried about. That you have been spun up into this fever of paranoia. It's not right. It is a failure of leadership that this kind of anxiety would be cultivated and nurtured and and exploited. It's wrong."

So there are a couple of issues here. Ravalli County would like the authority to audit local elections. Lawmakers, though, say broader election reforms are needed with changes in law.

In fact, most of the Bitterroot's legislators were there, making notes. Commissioners will send a letter this week, asking for that authority to audit local races.

"I want to write a letter to the Secretary of State outlining a post election local audit that helps verify the results of that machine," Commissioner Jeff Burrows said at the end of the hearing.

Voter Skip Chisholm believed it could be a positive move.

"Something that'll be nice for Ravalli County. And something that will be maybe set an example that's nice for the whole state of Montana."