Flathead County District Court Judge Stewart Stadler ruled Friday that a statewide recount is warranted for the state Superintendent of Public Instruction race, but a state attorney told Stadler his ruling would be appealed to the Supreme Court Monday. Even though the Republican candidate in the race, Martin City resident Sandy Welch, has to pay for the recount, Friday’s proceedings turned out to be a legal skirmish involving issues beyond vote counting. Amy Eddy, a Kalispell attorney representing Democratic incumbent Denise Juneau, said Welch’s team is aiming to “disenfranchise voters” by challenging and disqualifying ballots that may be legally tainted.
For example, she said there were 83 voters in Glacier County who voted on photocopied ballots, which are technically not official ballots as defined by law. But Eddy contends that election administrators simply made “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that citizens could vote.
Welch applied for the recount in court, rather than petitioning Democratic Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, alleging there is probable cause for six types of ballot-counting errors that may have falsely affected election results.
Juneau ended up prevailing in the Nov. 6 election with 235,397 votes, while Welch got 233,166 votes, a difference of 2,231 votes or a 0.48 percent margin. State law provides candidates an opportunity to seek a recount if the margin is less than a half of a percentage point.
Eddy and Jorge Quintana, an attorney representing the secretary of state’s office, argued that Welch didn’t provide enough evidence to justify a statewide recount. They noted that Welch provided specific allegations in just six counties, and she noted that the Election Systems & Software Model 650 vote-counting machines that had problems in some counties were used in just 17 counties.