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SOS Jacobsen avoids stance on Missoula election dispute

Says she's looking ahead to 2022 election
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 08:00:19-04

MISSOULA — In the duel between a Republican-led group and Missoula County election officials over alleged problems with ballot-counting here in the 2020 general election, both sides have appealed to the state’s top election officer to step in, on their behalf.

But Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen has avoided taking sides or making any definitive statement about the months-long issue.

State Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, a leader of the group that claims nearly 4,600 ballots may not have proper chain of custody, told MTN News he’d like the secretary of state to acknowledge the discrepancy and help resolve it.

And Missoula County Election Administrator Bradley Seaman’s office and the Missoula County Commission have asked Jacobsen to affirm that the county followed steps approved by her office, and that nothing is wrong with the ballot count or security.

“False allegations of voter fraud degrade the public perception of the process,” Seaman told MTN News earlier this month. “We want to encourage (her office) to work collaboratively with us to educate voters on how these processes protect the integrity of the election and how we can ensure that these allegations didn’t happen, by following these procedures.”

Jacobsen, a Republican, told MTN News this week that she addressed the concerns in an April 15 letter released to the public, and that she’s looking forward to having a “really solid election” in 2022.

“We’re working on rules to address room for improvement to certification of the election (results),” she said.

Her April 15 letter, released via Twitter, did not specifically mention the dispute in Missoula.

It said “there is a lot of discussion” about voting irregularities across the country “and recently in Montana,” and that the integrity of the process relies on citizen involvement.

It then said her office planned to take several steps to protect “the integrity of elections,” including:

· Enhancing election “transparency” by requiring the retention of video records.

· Exploring changes to allow broader access to election materials, without a court order.

· “Improving county processes and procedures” related to ballot envelopes.

· Revising processes for determining the validity of a voted ballot.

All of these steps appear related to concerns raised by Tschida’s group, although the letter has no reference to Missoula County.

Jacobsen and members of her office met with Tschida and his attorney, Quentin Rhoades, in Helena earlier this year, to discuss their findings and allegations.

Seaman said he heard about the meeting and asked that a representative of county election officers attend. He said he was told by Jacobsen’s office to contact Rhoades about attending the meeting, but that Rhoades never got back to him.

In a letter to Jacobsen, Seaman said he’s confident the claims from Tschida’s group have no merit, and asked to meet with her on how they could “restore Montana voters’ confidence in our elections.”

Jacobsen has never replied, he said.

Jacobsen has been an advocate of “election integrity,” and supported bills in the 2021 Legislature that abolished Election Day voter-registration and tightened requirements for voter-ID in Montana.