election concession surrender
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It’s been almost two years since voters sent President Joe Biden to the White House, and the unfounded allegations of election fraud propagated by former president Donald Trump and his supporters are still swirling in American politics. 

Some 70% of Republicans nationwide believe that Joe Biden was illegitimately elected, despite GOP-backed recounts in key states including Arizona and Georgia confirming his 2020 victory, numerous debunkings of the most prominent conspiracy theories undergirding suspicions about the integrity of American elections, and failed lawsuits from Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the election.

A majority of Republican nominees in current races for the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and key statewide offices across the country deny or question the 2020 presidential results, according to recent Washington Post reporting, with many likely to win their forthcoming elections. 

In Montana, most Republican officials say the state’s elections — run in concert by GOP Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and numerous county officials — are secure, but lawmakers in the 2021 session still passed laws restricting how and when Montanan can vote, three of which were ruled unconstitutional by a Yellowstone County district court judge three weeks ago. And at the party’s platform convention this summer, delegates approved language calling for the state Legislature to “do everything in their power to complete any ongoing investigations into the 2020 election, and mandate and fund a conversion to a manual or mechanical vote count.”

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With the November midterms around the corner, and following another Washington Post survey, Montana Free Press reached out to every candidate running for the state’s two U.S. House districts to ask whether they will accept the results of their elections next month, and under what circumstances they would contest them. 

None said outright that they would reject the results of their race as certified by the Montana secretary of state, generally saying they would contest the results only if their margin of defeat falls within the state’s criteria for a recount. But neither Republican nominee would affirmatively commit to accepting their results, either. The recent court ruling against the state’s new election laws colored some of the answers, and among Democrats and the one independent running this cycle, candidates took the opportunity to tee off on their opponent’s party’s embrace of election denialism. 

Under Montana statute, automatic recounts are conducted when candidates tie. Candidates for Congress who are defeated “by a margin not exceeding 1/4 of 1% of the total votes cast for all candidates for the same position” can request a recount by filing a petition within five days of the official canvass of results. If the margin of defeat “exceeds 1/4 of 1% but does not exceed 1/2 of 1% of the total votes cast for all candidates for the same position,” the losing candidate can request a recount by filing a petition within five days of the canvass and posting a bond with the clerk and recorder in the county where they reside. 

The questions MTFP asked: 

  • Will you accept the results of the vote in your race, as reported and certified by the Montana secretary of state’s office?
  • Under what circumstances would you contest the results of the vote in your race, as reported and certified by the Montana secretary of state’s office?
  • What concerns, if any, do you have about the security and integrity of Montana’s 2022 election processes?

MONTANA’S WESTERN U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT RACE 

Monica Tranel, Democrat

Q1: “Yes. Local county election administrators work diligently to keep our elections secure, safe, and accurate. The efforts to undermine our local election officials based on lies promulgated by a losing candidate is a threat to American democracy, freedom, and every voter’s right to participate in our electoral process.”

Q2: “Because I believe in freedom and American democracy, I will adhere to all applicable election and recount laws.”

Q3: “The continued unjustified and unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen is the single greatest threat to the 2022 election process and American democracy. Leaders and candidates on both sides, including my opponent Ryan Zinke, should join me in denouncing the false election claims that threaten our democracy and America. 

The voter suppression laws that Zinke’s allies passed in the State Legislature, making it harder for Native Americans and young people to vote are very concerning. Multiple lawsuits around whether or not various voter suppression laws apply have created more uncertainty and confusion without much clarification or communication to voters from the Secretary of State’s office. We need to make voting more accessible, not less, to protect American democracy and our freedoms.

The integrity of elections in Montana starts with the Secretary of State’s Office. After the Republican primary debacle in Lincoln County, the secretary’s office must ensure all ballots are error free and sized appropriately to ensure a fair election process and accurate results.”

Ryan Zinke, Republican

“We feel good about the security of Montana’s elections and applaud the legislature for taking measures to further enhance election integrity,” wrote campaign spokesperson Heather Swift. “Regarding contesting the results, Montana has an automatic trigger for a recount when the race is within certain margins and allows campaigns to fund recounts within a slightly larger margin, which is prudent and frequently used in close races. We remain concerned about inappropriate influence from email, social media and news media platforms and them censoring or discounting information their ‘fact-checkers’ disagree with.” 

Zinke’s campaign did not provide a response directly from the candidate. 

John Lamb, Libertarian

Q1: “Yes, I will accept the results of the 2022 election vote in my race.”

Q2: “Unless there is something unseen very obviously wrong, I will not contest the election results in my race. At this time I have no concern or issues.”

Q3: “I have no concerns for the security and integrity of Montana’s 2022 election process. I feel that Montana has safe and fair elections.”

MONTANA’S EASTERN U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT RACE

Matt Rosendale, Republican

“Congressman Rosendale has every confidence in the accuracy and ability of our current Secretary of State, as well as our local election officials here in Montana, but believes that every election is different and should be treated as such and is deeply disappointed by Judge Moses decision to overturn the will of the Legislature and the people across Montana,” said campaign spokeswoman Shelby DeMars.

Rosendale’s campaign did not provide a response directly from the candidate.

Penny Ronning, Democrat

Q1: “Yes.”

Q2: “I would request a recount if the parameters to do so were met and would accept those results.”

Q3: “I trust the election process in Montana and don’t know of any instances of election fraud that have been documented.”

Gary Buchanan, independent 

“Yes, I will accept the results as certified by the Secretary of State. I accept the fact that Biden won the 2020 election, as well as the Montana Republicans at the state level. I have never seen whining winners like the Repubs in their platform. I do not have concerns about the security and integrity of the 2022 election process.”

Sam Rankin, Libertarian

Q1: “Yes.”

Q2: “As per the state election laws re: recount percentages.”

Q3: “None at this time.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.