Montana Election Officials Increasing Security For Primary

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Frustrated county election administrators in Montana are increasing security for Tuesday's primary election while the state’s commissioner of political practices says misinformation about election security is eroding people’s faith in democracy.

Experienced election judges aren’t coming back. Some counties are increasing their law enforcement presence at voting and counting sites. At least one has added cameras at a ballot drop-off site and is keeping its ballot counting machines at the county office, rather than distribute them to precincts.

“Everybody’s, I think, a little bit on edge this year,” said Amy Reese, clerk and recorder in Lewis and Clark County. Officials there are hoping to have more deputies patrolling near polling places since the sheriff’s office doesn’t have enough staff to provide security at the polls.

There's been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Montana, a state former President Donald Trump won by 16 points in 2020.

Still, groups have been holding meetings raising questions about election security and the potential for votes to be manipulated.

Tuesday’s primary is a practice run for November’s general election, the first major election since Trump falsely alleged he lost his reelection bid because the voting was rigged, said Cascade County Clerk and Recorder Rina Fontana Moore.

November's poll, she said, is preparation for what could be a contentious presidential election in 2024.

Moore has arranged for extra security at all of the county’s polling places, including hiring private security guards for some sites. She also plans to have security in the ballot counting area “because nobody is going to come near those machines of ours,” Moore said.

In previous years, vote-counting machines were sent to individual precincts in Teton County, but Clerk and Recorder Paula Jaconetty said she's keeping them at the county offices, in part because people suggested the machines were vulnerable to “bugs” being planted without election officials knowing.

The county has also placed security cameras at the polling site in the courthouse, in a hallway and at a back door ballot drop box.

“It’s been recommended, encouraged by the Secretary of State’s Office just to help with security,” Jaconetty said.

Crystal Roascio, the elections administrator in Carbon County, said a self-appointed “integrity group” that held forums in three counties also demanded a hand count of ballots and suggested vote-counting machines could be hacked.

“I have election judges terrified for their safety and have even had some resign from being a judge over this,” Roascio wrote in an email to Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan in late May.

Mangan told a legislative committee late last month that election misinformation and disinformation is putting election officials, judges and volunteers at risk.

Any election officials who feel threatened “while performing the important duties of their job” should contact local law enforcement, said Richie Melby, spokesperson for Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen.

Democratic-leaning Missoula County is not adding extra security, elections administrator Bradley Seaman said.

That's the same county where a private group claimed its own count found nearly 4,600 more votes than envelopes during the November 2020 election, which was held by mail because of the pandemic. A county Republican organization then paid to have election officials recount signature envelopes in an attempt to alleviate voter concerns.

The result of the recount was 71 different from the nearly 72,500 votes cast in Missoula County in November 2020, Seaman said at the time. The margin of error was 0.09% compared with 6% in the January 2021 count performed by the Montana Election Integrity Project in their unsuccessful effort to prove voter fraud.