Brad Tschida
Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, addresses a Legislative Council requesting the establishment of a special committee to probe alleged election security issues.

Following a recent effort by the Missoula County Republican Party to settle claims of voting irregularities in the county’s 2020 election, Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, leveled a fresh allegation this week, suggesting that the Missoula County Election Office was “incompetent” or that unnamed actors had engaged in deliberate wrongdoing.

In a statement delivered Monday by Missoula attorney Quentin Rhoades, Tschida claimed that last week’s count of 2020 ballot affirmation envelopes, spearheaded by the county GOP, included two additional boxes of records that were absent during a citizen count he organized in January 2021. Tschida said the box discrepancy “could mean the election office is merely incompetent and lost track of the two boxes,” in which case he requested the office release records about the chain of custody of those boxes.

“The other alternative is that in the 15 months since January 4, 2021, two extra boxes of counterfeit envelopes were generated deliberately by wrongdoers,” Tschida said, adding that the situation “calls the Missoula County Election Office into deeper question than before.”

Rhoades’ initial email to media Monday also included an affidavit from former Missoula City Council member Lyn Hellegaard, a leader of the first envelope count effort. Hellegaard’s affidavit states that the number of tally sheets she collected after that count indicates 31 boxes of envelopes were provided, and that 33 boxes were present at the GOP-led count she attended last week.

Missoula County commissioners Dave Strohmaier, Juanita Vero and Josh Slotnick fired back in a joint statement rebuffing Tschida’s latest allegations, saying the legislator has had a year to contest the 2020 election in court “but refused to do so.” The statement also referenced the results of last week’s envelope count, which came up 71 envelopes shy of the total the election office listed as received in 2020 — and far shy of the 4,500-envelope discrepancy Tschida and his group claimed after their January count.

“Now that his allegations are proven false, he’s trying to save face by rehashing it in the media yet again,” the commissioners wrote. “We refuse to engage in a back-[and]-forth with him as he grasps for straws. We also refuse to entertain his malicious accusations against our elections staff, no matter how sincerely he seems to believe them. Instead, we’ll continue to focus on supporting our hard-working staff as they prepare to run another safe, secure and accurate election.”

“The other alternative is that in the 15 months since January 4, 2021, two extra boxes of counterfeit envelopes were generated deliberately by wrongdoers.”

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula

Rhoades submitted the new claims Tuesday to Montana’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, on behalf of Tschida and the Missoula County Election Integrity Project, a local group Tschida helped found last year. Rhoades told Jacobsen it is “incumbent upon your office to investigate the Missoula County Election Office errors as the public continues to have deep seated concerns about the 2020 election.”

Jacobsen’s office did not respond to repeated email requests for an interview or written statement about Tschida’s allegations. Montana Free Press also reached out to former Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who oversaw the 2020 election statewide. He declined to comment directly on Tschida’s claims, writing via text message, “I have absolute confidence in [Secretary] Christi Jacobsen and her whole team, and that Montana will continue to run great elections!”

Missoula County GOP Chair Vondene Kopetski told MTFP Wednesday that she continues to stand by the process conducted last week, which she and Missoula County Election Administrator Bradley Seaman spent roughly five months developing. The results led her to conclude last week that there was “no voter fraud.” Kopetski also disputed a specific claim about that process made by Tschida and Hellegaard this week: that volunteer observers were required to sit six feet away from election office staff as they counted the envelopes. In fact, Kopetski said, members of her group were much closer to and more actively engaged with the count.

“People on our team would often stop a counter and ask them to recount if the numbers didn’t comport with the tallying they were doing,” Kopetski said. “It was very interactive and our process took over 20 hours. We took our time.”

“We refuse to engage in a back-[and]-forth with [Tschida] as he grasps for straws. We also refuse to entertain his malicious accusations against our elections staff, no matter how sincerely he seems to believe them.”

Missoula County commissioners Dave Strohmaier, Juanita Vero and Josh Slotnick

Asked if she has any concerns about incompetence or wrongdoing on the part of the Missoula County Election Office, Kopetski replied, “No, I don’t have any concerns about that.”

MTFP also spoke with Tschida by phone Wednesday, asking for additional clarity regarding his allegations against the election office. Tschida, who has routinely pressed his concerns about the 2020 election over the past year, said that if there’s a reasonable explanation for the alleged additional boxes of envelopes produced for the recent count, he would like to hear it. He added that his allegations were directed not at “the rank-and-file” in the Missoula County Election Office but rather at its administrator, Seaman, and called on him to produce information on the “chain of custody” of the boxes.

“The focus is why did two different groups get two different quantities of boxes of envelopes?” Tschida said. “Explain that. If you do not explain that — and this is a simple logic problem — if you don’t explain it, then the possibility exists that there were ballots manufactured because what are the other options, what are the other alternatives, where did the two boxes come from?”

related

Tschida’s call for an explanation and for Jacobsen to investigate the situation aren’t his only hoped-for remedies. In response to a letter Tschida and nine other Republican lawmakers submitted in March, Jacobsen is conducting a poll of lawmakers on the question of calling a special session of the Montana Legislature. The stated goal of the requested session is to vote on the creation of a special select committee to investigate election security in the state. Tschida said he couldn’t speculate on the impacts the recent Missoula County Republican Party effort or his new allegations might have on legislators weighing that consideration. But asked for comment on the latest developments in Missoula, Republican leadership in the Legislature provided its read on the poll so far.

“Members of Republican leadership from both chambers have been asking their members about the special session poll and also recently discussed election integrity issues with the legislators calling for a special session,” the emailed statement from leadership spokesperson Kyle Schmauch read. “At this point, the votes don’t seem to be there to call a special session. Multiple members of leadership have encouraged legislators to start working on legislation for next session to address concerns about election security.”

Leadership did not speak directly to Tschida’s most recent allegations.

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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...