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Citing concerns about unresolved allegations of local voting discrepancies and a resulting erosion of voter faith in the integrity of their vote, the Missoula County Republican Party plans to conduct a recount next month of affirmation envelopes from Missoula County’s 2020 election. Party chair Vondene Kopetski said the goal is to put to rest, once and for all, a question raised nearly one year ago by a group of citizens led by Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula.

“We need to find out if there’s any veracity to these allegations,” Kopetski said. “We need to put this to bed one way or the other.”

The recount marks the first attempt to independently verify Tschida’s claim that he and a group of volunteers uncovered a 4,600-vote discrepancy in Missoula’s 2020 election results after conducting a hand-count last January of the affirmation envelopes used to contain mail-in ballots. Tschida alluded to the discrepancy when arguing in favor of changes to state election laws during last year’s legislative session, and the claim has since helped to fuel a demand by Tschida and several other Republican lawmakers for an investigation of the 2020 election statewide.

Kopetski told Montana Free Press that she and other members of the Missoula County Republican Party were initially unaware of the effort led by Tschida last January. But in the course of conducting a voter registration project, she said, she continually heard about residents informing door-knockers that they felt their vote would not be counted due to local claims of voter fraud. The anecdote echoes concerns repeatedly raised by Democrats, political scientists and others fearful of the consequences of the voter-fraud narrative.

“This continued to come to us and we couldn’t do anything about it because we didn’t know anything about it,” Kopetski said. “We had asked different people if they were going to work at curing these questions or answering these questions. And when it didn’t happen, our group just decided that we care about the votes, we care about the integrity of elections, and so we wanted to make sure that voters in Missoula County knew that their votes get counted regardless of their party affiliation.”

Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman did not respond to a voicemail message Monday seeking comment. An email requesting comment from Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen regarding Tschida’s allegations and other claims of voter fraud in Montana also went unanswered. In response to an email asking how the recount might address his concerns, Tschida replied, in full, “Why is [Kopetski] considering this ballot envelope recount? What does it accomplish?”

According to Kopetski, the party’s recount effort will take place during the first week of February and involve 24 to 30 volunteers. She said she and other party members have developed a process to conduct the count that will involve eight teams of three people — one to count affirmation envelopes as they are removed from storage boxes, one to tally that count, and one to conduct a second count before the envelopes are boxed again. Each of those volunteers will be trained beforehand and supervised throughout the endeavor, Kopetski added, and staff from the Missoula County Elections Office will oversee the transport and handling of the envelopes as required by law. Kopetski also noted that members of the public are invited to observe and the count will be recorded on video.

“We want this to be extremely transparent,” she said.

The effort will not recount votes cast in 2020, but rather the voter-signed affirmation envelopes that contained mail-in ballots — which Tschida’s group alleges did not match the total number of votes cast in Missoula County. Kopetski noted that the Missoula County Republican Party already anticipates its tally will differ from Tschida’s, as the party is aware of roughly 800 ballots cast by overseas voters that did not require affirmation envelopes. 

Kopetski said the party has already paid $5,000 to the elections office to cover staff time and other costs associated with the recount, and she’s been soliciting donations for several months specifically to cover the payment. Kopetski said she thinks it’s particularly important that the local Republican Party resolves the allegations, since a common rebuttal to claims of voter fraud in Montana is that Republican candidates swept races for statewide offices in 2020.

“We need voters to know that if Republicans got elected by double digits, that there was no fraud that made that happen,” Kopetski said. “And if we don’t do that, if that isn’t clarified, then that casts suspicion on the party.”

If the effort does reveal any truth to Tschida’s claims, Kopetski said, the party will “run that to ground” and work with the elections office to identify the cause of any discrepancies and potential solutions. That way, she continued, “voters don’t have to wonder anymore if their vote counts.”

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Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...