The Montana Secretary of State reports his office is investigating a case of voter fraud in Missoula County.
Corey Stapleton said Friday that mail ballot voter fraud occurred during the congressional special election. The case involved signature forgery on a mail-in ballot, according to a news release.
“We’ve had mail ballot security issues in Missoula now for two consecutive election cycles,” said Stapleton. “Our office takes this matter seriously.”
Stapleton said his office has notified the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. MTN News talked with Missoula County Elections Administrator Rebecca Connors on Friday morning about the incident.
"Our office is not deeming it voter fraud, we are deeming it more of a clerical error. Unfortunately, our office accepted a signature that was similar to a voter's signature on file but it was not a true match. It actually happens quite commonly, a lot of husbands and wives swap signatures, roommates swap signatures, etc," Connors said.
"Elections are held at a very high standard. And unfortunately, as long as people are involved in the process we will have errors. We do see errors at polling places, we do see errors within the absentee or mail ballots. But we are transparent in this process and we let everyone know how that works," Connors added.
A pair of tweets were also sent out from Missoula Votes @MissoulaVotes on Friday morning in response to the issue. The first tweet read: "In response to MT SOS: Our office is 100% transparent and detailed the clerical error to County Canvass Board and SOS".
Another tweet stated, "Issue is not viewed as voter fraud, but as a clerical error. Elections are held to a high standard, and we work hard to keep it high."
Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks also responded to the investigation by saying, "Missoula County takes allegations of voter fraud very seriously. However, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s implication that there are pervasive ballot security issues in Missoula County is misleading."
"In the May 2017 Special Election, there were 47,159 ballots cast in Missoula County. There were 381,416 votes cast statewide. To the best of Missoula County’s knowledge there was only one report of a voting irregularity involving a single absentee ballot," a statement by Marks continued.
Below is the full statement e-mailed to by Jason Marks:
Missoula County takes allegations of voter fraud very seriously. However, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s implication that there are pervasive ballot security issues in Missoula County is misleading. In the May 2017 Special Election, there were 47,159 ballots cast in Missoula County. There were 381,416 votes cast statewide. To the best of Missoula County’s knowledge there was only one report of a voting irregularity involving a single absentee ballot. The elections office investigated the matter as soon as it came to light and notified the Secretary of State. To suggest that there are serious ballot security issues based upon an isolated incident is simply inaccurate and a disservice to the public.
The Secretary of State also referred to an incident in a prior election cycle. Since County Attorney Pabst has been in office, our office has received only one other report of possible voter fraud in May of 2016, once again involving a single ballot. Violations of election laws are a misdemeanor criminal offense. The Missoula County Attorney’s Office stands ready to prosecute any instances of voter fraud if a suspect is identified through a criminal investigation.
We will have more information on this developing story as it becomes available.
- information from Don Fisher and Mark Thorsell included in this report.