During last years citizen-led count of affirmation envelopes, county elections officials provided the Missoula County Election Integrity Project with 31 boxes of envelopes from the 2020 Election. During last week’s count, the county produced 33 boxes of envelopes.
Last Wednesday, the Missoula County Republican Central Committee circulated an email to their membership reporting that an additional count of “affirmation envelopes from the 2020 election that were contained in 33 numbered boxes” had cleared up a discrepancy discovered last January by the Missoula County Election Integrity Project (MCEIP). The citizen-led MCEIP discovered in January of 2021 that 4,592 mail-in ballot envelopes (or affirmation envelopes) were missing, a number representing over 6% of the total recorded votes in the county.
State law says that without an affirmation envelope, a voters signature and eligibility cannot be determined and the vote must be discarded. According to the findings, the ballots with missing affirmation envelopes were counted anyway.
The recent all-clear provided by the local Republican party chair, Vondene Kopetski, provided a new glaring variance, however. 33 boxes of envelopes represents a discrepancy of two additional boxes of affirmation envelopes as compared to the number of boxes provided by elections officials during the count made by the MCEIP last January.
On January 4th, 2021, the Missoula County Election Office produced 31 sealed boxes of affirmation envelopes to the MCEIP pursuant to a request made under Montana “right to know” law. The County had an obligation to and claimed that it did produce all the boxes of affirmation envelopes it had in its custody per Montana election regulations. The MCEIP’s January 4th, 2021, count revealed that the County Election Office had tallied 4,592 more votes than the number of envelopes it received in the all mail-in election. The troubling result raised concerns over the integrity of the 2020 vote count.
In an affidavit, Lyn Hellegaard, who served as the supervisor of the MCEIP team of citizen volunteers who counted the signature envelopes on January 4th, 2021, stated that election officials produced 31 boxes of envelopes for the January 2021 count.
In a count commissioned by the Missoula County Republicans and conducted last week by County Election Office staff, the Elections Office produced a total of 33 numbered boxes of affirmation envelopes; two more than the County produced on January 4th, 2021. Last weeks count resulted in 71 fewer envelopes than votes tallied on election night, while the January 2021 count resulted in 4,592 fewer envelopes than votes tallied.
“The two additional boxes of envelopes produced on March 28th explain the difference of 4,521 envelopes between the two counts,” a letter from the MCEIP attorney, Quentin Rhoades, stated. “The MCEIP can only speculate about the origins of the County’s additional and unexplained “two extra boxes” of affirmation envelopes.”
The Election Office’s early destruction of the video logs from the 2020 General Election make this discrepancy even more egregious. After County Election Administrator Bradley Seaman made the MCEIP aware of the video logs 42 days after election day, Rhoades asked to view the election day video. County IT staff informed Seaman in an email he forwarded to the MCEIP, that the video had been deleted before it had been requested.
The deletion of the video violated Missoula County regulations requiring all video records to be preserved for at least 60 days, as well as the Federal law requiring all election records to be maintained for 22 months. If the video had not been destroyed, it could easily resolve the question of the number of affirmation envelope boxes that were filled on election day.
MCEIP member and state Rep. Brad Tschida (HD-97) stated that the additional two boxes of affirmation envelopes materializing for the second count could mean only one of two things, neither of them reassuring. Mr. Tschida stated:
“It could mean that the Election Office is merely incompetent and lost track of the two boxes. If this is the case, a written chain of custody should exist in County records to establish when the lost boxes disappeared and when and where they were found. We call on the Election Office to release the chain of custody to the public.”
Tschida continued, “The other alternative is that in the 15 months since January 4, 2021, two extra boxes of counterfeit envelopes were generated deliberately by wrongdoers. The latter alternative could explain why in the recent count, the Election Office required citizen observers to sit at least six feet away—too far away to see the signatures or dates on the affirmation envelopes. This revelation calls the Missoula County Election Office into deeper question than before. State-level officials must investigate the Missoula County Election Office errors as the public continues to have deep seated concerns about the 2020 election.”