Candidate files request for recount in court

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Sandy Welch

Sandy Welch, the Republican candidate for Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, has filed a formal request for a manual recount of her close race with incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau.

Welch filed the application Monday in Flathead District Court. State law requires Welch, a Martin City educational consultant, to file in her home county.

“We have worked over the past several weeks to get to this point,” Welch said. “A recount is an important and more deliberative option allowed by our process, and it will reveal any issues that have statewide implications. Recounts will be healthy for the integrity of our election, and we have the opportunity to move forward and identify inconsistencies.”

Welch will pay the state for the recount by purchasing a bond for $115,000, an amount determined by recount estimates from each county. Welch said she is being assisted in the cost by the Republican Party at the state and national levels.

Adding in attorney fees and other expenses, Welch said the total cost to her campaign would top $200,000.

The Secretary of State’s office previously said those costs were not reimbursable even if the election outcome were reversed. By going through the courts, Welch now has a chance to reclaim the recount costs if she prevails, she said.

Welch’s team submitted a letter to the secretary of state on Nov. 30, urging that the media and public be adequately notified of their ability to participate in the recount process.

“This is a public process, open to citizens and the media,” Welch said. “Both Denise Juneau and I are entitled to fully observe the entire process. There is a tight schedule mandated by law, but the law mandates transparency and candidate participation.”

Final vote canvassing from the Nov. 6 election gave Juneau 235,397 votes and Welch 233,166 votes, a difference of 2,231 votes with a 0.48 percent margin.

Candidates have the ability to apply for a recount if the margin is less than a half percentage point.

“This is an opportunity for the public to learn how our election process works,” Welch said. “We are aware of instances where there were some significant systematic errors made in counting ballots, and this is the best process to confirm this. The public must be aware of these problems.”

Welch’s team is coordinating representatives to observe the recount. A spokeswoman for Juneau said Monday the Democrat’s campaign also was organizing poll watchers to oversee the recount at the county level and make sure the process goes smoothly.

 A hearing is this Friday before District Judge Stewart Stadler to consider Welch’s bid for a recount.

Welch said she anticipates that court proceeding to clear the way for a recount to start next week in each of Montana’s 56 counties. Some of the larger counties have estimated it will take five days, she said.

 

Elections expert Rob Richie said Monday that Welch will be fighting long odds in her bid to become Montana’s next superintendent of public instruction.

Richie, with the Maryland-based election research group FairVote, said his group analyzed 18 statewide recounts in the United States over the past decade. Those recounts on average shifted the vote less than 0.03 percent, or by just a few hundred votes, he said.

By contrast, Welch lost by 0.48 percent. That’s more than 17 times the average shift found by FairVote.

Richie said “it would be extraordinarily unlikely” for a recount to change the outcome. 

“There’s been no statewide recount that’s resulted in a margin that’s remotely near this margin,” he said. “Unless there’s fraud — a real distortion from someone cheating — it probably won’t be there.”

Richie said voting machine errors typically don’t discriminate between candidates, meaning any votes Welch might have lost would have been canceled out by lost votes for Juneau.

He added that regardless of the outcome, the recount could serve a public service by either confirming the integrity of Montana’s election system or revealing its flaws.

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