Montana’s primary elections were held on June 5. The HD92 Republican primary winner was finally declared on June 20. The back story should have every voter in Montana concerned about election integrity in their county since this could happen at any precinct.
In the interest of full disclosure, Montanans for Limited Government recommended DJ Smith in the HD92 Republican primary. The other two candidates were incumbent Mike Hopkins (64% rating on MFLG Scorecard: https://www.keepandshare.com/doc11/21871/scorecard-3-pdf-8-9-meg?da=y), and Larry Dunham. The candidates ran clean races and they are not responsible for what has taken place in the debacle we are about to describe.
When election results came in on June 6, Hopkins held a six vote lead. After all the provisional ballots were counted, it was announced on June 11 that Hopkins had picked up one more vote and Smith had picked up three more, leaving Smith at a four vote deficit.
This is where the story takes on a life of its own. Four (4) ballots had been discovered in a box of election supplies from the Seeley Lake precinct that is part of HD92. Furthermore, it was discovered that precinct workers handed six (6) HD89 ballots to voters in HD92. To emphasize: four (4) ballots at Seeley Lake were not secured and six (6) out-of-district ballots were given to HD92 voters.
This type of careless election administration is worrisome. Although the precinct workers made the mistake with the six ballots, and the Missoula County Elections Administrator knows who voted those ballots, there is no remedy under Montana law that allows those six voters the opportunity to vote the correct ballots. Through no fault of their own, but clearly through the fault of the precinct workers and the lack of Montana law, the six voters in HD92 will not have their votes counted.
Given the voting irregularities, a recount of the HD92 Republican primary race was called for by the county election canvassing board. Mike Hopkins was declared the winner with 414 votes; DJ Smith had 412 votes. Did Mike Hopkins really win, in light of the six wrongly-voted ballots? We’ll never know.
What should happen from here? The Missoula County Elections Administrator should find new precinct workers, in Seeley where ballots were mishandled and Clinton where the wrong ballots were handed to voters. Additionally, the Montana Secretary of State should begin drafting proposed legislation that can be carried through the 2019 Montana legislative session. The legislation should put in place a mechanism whereby no citizen is denied their right to vote due to the error of government, or its workers. Election integrity is the beating heart of our constitutional republic. Voters and candidates deserve to be made whole when the gravity of the situation warrants it, and this one certainly rises to that level.