Superintendent of Schools Race Headed for Recount

By Beacon Staff

Sandy Welch, the Republican candidate for superintendent of public schools, will have to come up with more than $100,000 as she moves forward with plans to request a vote recount.

After provisional ballots were tallied last week, Welch trailed incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau by 2,264 votes, within the 0.48 percent margin of error required to request a recount.

Welch plans to file her request as soon as the vote is certified on Nov. 27. She is required by state law to put up a bond to cover the costs because the difference is greater than 0.25 percent.

Election officials say a statewide recount covering all 56 counties would cost about 24.5 cents per ballot. With more than 468,000 ballots cast, the anticipated cost would be $114,798.78. That exceeds the total amount that Welch’s campaign raised during its entire campaign.

Last week, campaign manager Mitch Staley said several supporters had already stepped forward to offer financial help. The state Republican Party has indicated it will cover the remainder of the costs, Staley said. That will also include attorney fees and other expenses beyond the costs incurred by the counties.

Montana’s commissioner of political practices said on Nov. 15 that a recount does not fall under the same restrictions as the election process, meaning funds raised to pay for a recount would not be considered campaign contributions.

That allows the Welch campaign to accept money without worrying about contribution limits, opening up the possibility that an entity such as the state Republican Party can pick up most or all of the costs if it chooses.

“Money raised for a bond in a recount is not intended to influence the election, so essentially there’s nothing prohibiting the Republican Party from funding that bond,” Mary Baker with the commissioner of political practices’ office said.

The Juneau campaign said it will have a “team and plan in place if this moves forward.”

“We expect there will be no change in the outcome of the election,” a Juneau campaign spokeswoman said. “In the meantime, Superintendent Juneau will continue to do the important work of serving the students, parents and schools of Montana.”

Juneau defeated Republican Elaine Sollie Herman 51-44 percent in 2008 to become the superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, the state’s head education official. The Democrat became the first American Indian woman ever to win statewide office.

During the campaign, Juneau touted her record on declining dropout rates, improving graduation rates and rising student test scores.

Welch is a longtime teacher, school administrator and education consultant. She touted her wide-ranging background, which includes working at schools from Los Gatos, Calif. to Ronan High School in Montana.

Welch has called for less restrictive education regulations and a more localized approach to education. She ran previously ran for House District 3 in 2010, when she lost in the Republican primary to Jerry O’Neil.

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