County Gop Pays For Envelope Count To Disprove Voter Fraud

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana county Republican organization paid to have election officials recount signature envelopes from the November 2020 election in an attempt to alleviate voter concerns after a private group claimed its own count found nearly 4,600 more votes than envelopes in the election held by mail because of the pandemic.

“I would tell voters that they can be absolutely 100% confident that their vote counts and will be counted,” Vondene Kopetski, chair of the Missoula County Republican Central Committee, said Tuesday after the count wrapped up.

The result of this week’s envelope count was 71 different from the nearly 72,500 votes cast in Missoula County in November 2020, said Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman.

The margin of error was 0.09% compared with 6% in the January 2021 count performed by the Montana Election Integrity Project.

“What this all boils down to is that Montana’s elections are safe and secure,” Seaman said. If there had been an error involving 4,600 votes, it would have been caught by the canvas board, the Secretary of State’s Office and a post-election equipment audit, he said.

And if the results were off so badly, the Montana Election Integrity Project — which did the first envelope count — should have challenged them in court, Seaman said.

“Choosing not to take it to court shows to me that there was no merit behind these allegations originally and it took an intraparty conflict of the Republican Central Committee to show what a poor job they had done,” Seaman said.

“If this is a political game, the stakes that they’re playing with are people’s confidence in elections — and that’s not something that should be taken lightly,” Seaman said.

The Montana voter fraud claim, and the county party's effort to disprove it, is an example of the fallout from unfounded allegations of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump and his allies after he lost. The allegations sparked the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and were used as the reason to change election laws around the country.

Kopetski said after hearing from people who didn’t plan to vote due to the allegations of voter fraud, the party asked Republican Rep. Brad Tschida — a member of the integrity project — to “cure the allegations.” After several months of inaction, they decided the party would have to respond.

The process used this week made the difference in the accuracy, Seaman said.

County workers double-checked their counts, matching their tallies to the number on the box that the envelopes were stored in and had witnesses sign to affirm the recorded information was accurate.

The Montana Election Integrity Project count was not double-checked, was “very haphazard” and their documentation was a mix of tally marks, slashes and random numbers all stamped with “Missoula County Tyranny," Seaman said.

Tschida said Tuesday his group conducted a thorough assessment of ballot envelopes in January 2021 “and any outcome other than the outcome of the first count would be highly suspicious.”

“Further, nearly 15 months have elapsed since the first count,” Tschida said via text, arguing that no one “can confirm irrefutably the security of the ballot envelopes since that date."

Montana's 2021 Legislature — with a two-thirds Republican majority — used allegations of election fraud to pass laws to end Election Day voter registration, to ban the paid collection of voted ballots and to require college students to provide additional identifying information if they want to use a student ID to register and vote. District Judge Michael Moses heard arguments against those laws earlier this month.