Senate Can Meet to Review Montana Elections, Legislative Legal Office Says
At the end of September, 86 Montana legislators sent a letter to Senate President Mark Blasdel (SD-4) and House Speaker Wylie Galt (HD-30) asking for a select committee on elections to recommend laws to shore up the security of elections in Montana and to review the results of previous elections. The legislators asked for a response by October 6th.
Blasdel and Galt, in response, sent a request to legislative staff attorneys on October 5th to obtain clarification on legislative rules and Montana law regarding the formation of the special select committee, specifically, “guidance on other mechanisms that may allow for legislators to conduct hearings, take testimony, examine public records, and draft legislation regarding a specific topic. Lastly, your letter asks for an estimate of the costs of a special session in the event it is the only avenue to achieve the outlined goals,” according legislative staff.
Last Friday, Montana Legislative Services Division Legal Services Office released a memorandum responding to the questions proposed by legislators. According to staff attorney Jaret Coles, the House cannot call a special select committee without a 2/3rds vote during an active session. Currently, the legislature is out of session and is not set to reconvene until 2023. However, the attorney stated that it was his opinion that the Senate could convene a special select committee, but that it could not include House members.
“It is my opinion that the president of the Senate has the authority to create a Senate special committee to review Montana’s election laws and processes,” Cole stated.
“The Senate Rules are different than the House Rules, and the president of the Senate has the authority to form and appoint a Senate special committee without approval of the Senate. The committee would not include members of the House,” the memorandum continued.
“Based on the plain language of Senate Rule 30-10(4) and past practice, it is my opinion that the president of the Senate has the authority to create a Senate special committee to review Montana’s election laws and processes. This committee could be comprised of senators that are appointed with the advice of the Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader, and it would not include members of the House. However, members of the House could participate in the same manner as members of the public by presenting public comment and recommendations to the Senate special committee. The Senate special committee would not be permitted to perform an investigative activity that is beyond the scope of legislative authority as provided in more detail in this memorandum.”RE: Information Request Regarding Review of Election Laws and Processes. Legislative Services Office. October 15, 2021.
“While both the Senate President and Speaker of the House can call for a Special Select Committee, the House would need to approve the Speaker’s request by a majority vote,” House Rep. Brad Tschida (HD-97) told Missoula County Tyranny.
The memorandum noted that there are existing committees that have authority over the Secretary of State and local county elections offices through the State and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee and the Local Government Interim Committee, respectively.
“Given that far more than half of the American populous believe serious irregularities occurred in the 2020 election, the desire of those conservative legislators and citizens involved is to restore confidence in our elections,” Tschida said.
The Legal Services Office memorandum comes as a poll released October 13th from Rasmussen found that 56% of American’s including 32% of Democrats believe that cheating affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
An accounting of the discrepancy of the alleged 4,592 ballots in Missoula County missing ballot signature envelopes has not been provided by the county’s election administrator, Bradley Seaman. Without ballot signature envelopes, it is impossible to tie a ballot to an actual voter, making the vote a “ghost vote” according to election analyst Seth Keshel. Keshel estimated 46,000 excess votes across the state and about 6,000 excess votes in Missoula County alone. Keshel shared his analysis of Montana’s 2020 election at the election integrity events hosted in Missoula and Hamilton at the end of September.
“While confidence may not have been destroyed in 2020, it has been severely damaged. All Americans should be able to agree that the sanctity of the vote in the US is of paramount importance,” Tschida said.
We asked Senate President Mark Blasdell if he plans to form a select committee to investigate Montana elections. We will update readers when the Senate President responds.
The memorandum summary is available below:
In the past the House Rules allowed the speaker of the House to form and appoint members of a special select committee during the interim. The rule that allowed for a unilateral appointment and formation of a special select committee changed in 2019 and currently requires approval by a majority vote of the House. Given that the House is not in session, the speaker of the House does not have the ability to form and appoint a special select committee. (see section II.A.)
The Senate Rules are different than the House Rules, and the president of the Senate has the authority to form and appoint a Senate special committee without approval of the Senate. The committee would not include members of the House. (see section II.B.)
The Joint Rules of the Montana Legislature do not provide authority to form and appoint a joint special select committee. Moreover, the Montana Code Annotated does not provide for an investigation by a legislative standing committee during the interim. (see sections II.C. and III.)
The State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee (SAVA) has oversight of the secretary of state, and the holder of this office is the chief election officer of this state. The Local Government Interim Committee (LGIC) also may be a proper forum for “discussing state oversight of local functions,” which could include certain election functions. Both of these legislative interim committees could conduct hearings, take testimony, examine public records, and draft legislation regarding specific areas of election laws and processes. (see section IV.)
The Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Audit Division have the constitutional charge and statutory authority to perform an audit in accordance with industry standards. Other legislative committees do not have the constitutional, statutory, or rule-based authority to perform an audit. (see section V.)
The Legislature or a properly formed legislative committee can pursue the valid legislative purpose of determining whether to introduce legislation concerning election laws and provide additional tools to the executive branch to investigate the integrity of elections laws. Additionally, only the judicial branch has the power to adjudicate election contests. (see section VI.)
In the event the options outlined in this memorandum do not achieve the desired goals, the Legislative Services Division has estimated that the first day of a special session would cost $108,003, with each subsequent day costing $56,685 plus overtime pay after the fourth legislative day. (see section VII.)Memorandom RE: Information Request Regarding Review of Election Laws and Processes. October 15, 2021.