The results of an election audit in Montana’s deep-blue Missoula County show the importance of similar reviews in key swing states such as Georgia and Arizona.
The findings also speak strongly to why the U.S. House-passed HR 1 should never become the law of the land.
In the summer of 2020, then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, issued a directive allowing counties in the Big Sky State to conduct the Nov. 3 general election by mail-in ballots in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Real Clear Investigations reported.
Further, a Montana judge struck down a voter-enacted law in September banning so-called ballot harvesting.
Missoula County, which Democrat Joe Biden carried by just shy of 24 percentage points, opted for full mail-in voting.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the county by just over 15 percent in 2016, so Biden enjoyed a 9 percent swing in his favor.
GOP state Rep. Brad Tschida, whose district is in Missoula County, told The Western Journal an audit of the 2020 election results showed significant issues.
There were approximately 72,500 ballots cast, recounted Tschida, who was one of those involved in pursuing the audit.
“When they went through and assessed the number of envelopes compared to the number of ballots, they found a discrepancy of just shy of 4,600. It was 4,592 ballots that had no envelope with them,” he said.
Every ballot should have had a corresponding envelope, the lawmaker explained, so that casts doubt on 6.3 percent of the ballots counted.
Another issue auditors unearthed in reviewing a sample of 15,455 envelopes was that 55 did not have a date on them and 53 had not had a signature confirmed, according to Real Clear Investigations.
In other words, 0.07 percent of the ballot envelopes were not legally sufficient to count the ballots they contained.
Taken together with missing envelopes, that was more than 7 percent of the total ballots counted, Tschida noted.
The representative said a further point of concern was a failure on the part of the county to keep a video recording of the election night ballot counting for the 60 days required by law.
The audit team made a request to see the video on Dec. 22, 48 days after the election, and again after determining there were thousands of missing envelopes — but to no avail.
The audit team’s attorney was told by the county, “We’re sorry that video of this is no longer available,” according to Tschida.
“So despite the fact that there had been a request to have that video made available, it was, you know, either eliminated, erased, destroyed, whatever the case was, when, in fact, a request had been made within the 60-day period to have that provided to the attorney,” he said.
When asked about the issue, Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman, a Democratic employee, told Real Clear Investigations the video “was past the retention schedule when requested.”
As to the missing envelopes, Seaman said the discrepancy was due to a lack of a “double-check process.”
In the presidential race overall in Montana, former President Donald Trump handily carried the state over Biden, 56.9 to 40.5 percent.
However, some of the local races fell well within the number of ballots at issue in Missoula County, including a Republican candidate who won a state House seat by about 190 votes and a Democratic candidate for state House who won by approximately 435 votes, Tschida said.
The Montanan believes the results of Missoula County’s audit show the importance of conducting others around the country.
“There are very few things within this federal republic that we have that are as sacred or important as the vote, because if we do not have a vote that has the highest level of integrity, then we really don’t have anything that allows us to have assurance that the people that we vote for are going to be the people who are elected if they receive the highest number of ballots,” Tschida said.
“So whether it’s Fulton County [in Georgia] or Maricopa County [in Arizona] or, you know, some county in Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, wherever the case may be, my hope and prayer is that we will have people who will desire to have an honest outcome displayed that will provide accurate information both on the presentation of data that’s available and the way in which it is counted or assessed,” he said.
The Arizona state Senate announced last week it had chosen four firms that will conduct an audit of Maricopa County’s November election results, following a months-long legal battle with the county’s Board of Supervisors.
Biden won the county by 2.2 percentage points in November — representing a 5.1 percent swing in the Democrat’s favor from 2016, when Trump won Maricopa by 2.9 percent over Clinton.
Despite Biden’s victory, Republicans carried every countywide office in Maricopa save sheriff (which the incumbent Democrat held), including flipping the country recorder and winning the open treasurer seat.
Additionally, a Georgia judge said last month he’s inclined to allow a government watchdog group to examine absentee ballots cast in November’s election in Fulton County.
Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero, who is overseeing the case, said he needs to see a detailed plan that maintains the secrecy and security of the ballots before giving the final go-ahead.
“We want to do this in such a way that dispels rumors and disinformation and sheds light,” Amero said. “The devil’s in the details.”
State Farm Arena in Fulton County is where poll watchers were told by election officials counting had stopped for the night, only for surveillance video to reveal it resumed in the overnight hours.
The county also had an abnormally high number of adjudicated ballots, over 130,000 of the approximately 525,000 cast. Adjudicated ballots are those with irregularities that prevent the machine from reading them.
Biden topped Trump 73 to 26 percent in the county, 6 percent better than Clinton’s performance.
Given the potential issues that took place in Maricopa, Fulton and likely other metropolitan areas in swing states, HR 1 — which negates voter ID laws, calls for automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballot voting, and allows ballot harvesting — seems a particularly bad idea.
It’s a “violation of the ability of the states to oversee and manage elections. That’s the responsibility of the legislature,” Tschida said.
“I can’t see how the federal government can usurp this because they will effectively eliminate fair elections in the future because we see the potential for fraud with mail-in ballots and it will only be exacerbated by a program like this,” he said.
The takeaway from the Missoula County audit and all the doubts raised by the last-minute rule changes in key swing states is clear: The voter integrity laws crafted by state legislatures must be followed if citizens are to have confidence in election results.
HR 1 should be rejected outright by the U.S. Senate.