Montana Politics

Dec 12, 2012 12:33 PM by Dax Van Fossen (Kalispell)

Lack of money halted Montana OPI race recount

The heated race for the Montana Office of Public Instruction ended quickly on Tuesday as Republican challenger Sandy Welch of Martin City dropped her request for a recount.

The move means that incumbent Denise Juneau (D) will keep her job.

The State of Montana chose not to appeal a court ruling Tuesday, granting Sandy Welch a recount of her tight election race with Denise Juneau, but Welch withdrew her request citing an inability to raise the $115,000 in order to pay for the recount.

"Overall it's been a great experience, but a little disappointed that it ended this way, but that's okay," Welch said.

The Montana Attorney General's Office released a statement earlier on Tuesday that they would not pursue an appeal of a court ruling ordering the recount.

"The state does not wish to delay the final determination of this election any longer. Given that Ms. Welch could have sought the same remedy through the Secretary of State's office, and she is paying for the cost of the recount, we have decided not to appeal judge Stadler's decision," the statement read.

The recount would have begun as early as Monday morning, if Welch had raised $115,000, but she told us the dollar amount was simply too much.

"We needed to raise as much money in this past month as I raised the whole prior year. So, it was a disappointment that we weren't able to do that to get the recount. I think it would be very important, and I am certainly encouraged and hope that the state recognizes that even the judge identified errors that happened in this past election," Welch said during a phone interview.

Judge Stewart Stadler did find that there were issues with several state elections, which is why he granted the recount, pointing to several instances of elections issues, including one in Glacier County, where ballots had to be photocopied because election administrators ran out.

The Montana Republican Party was helping Welch raise the money for the recount and had hoped to tap the Republican National Committee for financial help, but in the end the donations fell through.

"We really had high hopes that we would be able to help Sandy post the bond for her recount," Montana Republican Party executive director Bowen Greenwood said.

"We had some major national donors we were talking to and had good reason to believe we would be able to raise the money, but in the end we weren't successful at that, which is disappointing to me, because Sandy really does deserve a recount. But at the end of the day we can't afford it for her," he added.

Greenwood added that Welch still won a victory because the courts found there were flaws in the election system, and he hopes the Montana Legislature will be able to address those flaws next session.

McCullough, a Democrat, said her office, and the counties around the state, were ready to go with the recount. She was confident that the recount would not have changed the results.

McCullough also stated that officials do an admirable job ensuring the integrity of elections, and that Montanans can be confident their vote counts.

Missoula County Elections Administrator Vicki Zeier had been preparing for a possible recount for weeks, and told us Tuesday night that she trusts the voting equipment, and didn't believe the recount would change the result of the election.

Zeier also said she's glad the decision was finally made since she has had to cancel schedules for election workers four times. She said the preparation was an added expense to the county in the form of staff time.

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