Welch Lines Up Watchers for Schools Race Recount

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – State schools superintendent runner-up Sandy Welch is likely to wait until next week to request a recount in a race she narrowly lost but has pledged to challenge, her campaign manager said Tuesday.

The Republican education consultant from Martin City trailed incumbent Denise Juneau by 2,231 votes in results certified Tuesday by state elections officials.

State elections officials say she has until Monday to request a recount.

Welch plans to use that time to line up observers to oversee ballot counting in each of Montana’s 56 counties, campaign manager Mitch Staley said.

But Staley said the Republican candidate is not backing off her intent to seek a recount.

Her margin of defeat was less than 0.5 percent — a gap Welch’s campaign expects to makes up in counties including Yellowstone that experienced problems on Election Day.

“We’ll use that five-day period just to make sure we’re prepared and have our poll watchers ready to go,” Staley said. He said several volunteers already had stepped forward but more were needed.

Once the recount begins, it could take a week to hand count the roughly half-million ballots cast by voters on Election Day, county officials said.

As the head of the Office of Public Instruction, the state schools superintendent sets policy and steers funding for the state’s K-12 schools.

If the results are reversed and Welch prevails, it also would give Republicans a highly sought-after second seat on the state Land Board. That’s a five-member panel chaired by the governor that oversees and leases state land for timber, coal and oil extraction and other purposes.

Welch will have to reimburse the counties an estimated $115,000 in recount expenses. The Montana Republican Party has pledged to pick up the bulk of those costs.

Although normal campaign fundraising rules don’t apply to the recount, the state Commissioner of Political Practices said in a Tuesday ruling that Welch still must account for all money she receives and spends.

Commissioner James Murry said the financial reports can be submitted in whatever format Welch’s campaign deems most effective. He did not set a deadline.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said county elections officers “are on alert” to expect a recount that could begin as early as Monday.

But McCulloch’s office said that due to public notice requirements, the scheduled start date could get bumped back by several days or a week if the request doesn’t arrive until Monday.

In the state’s most populous county, Yellowstone, elections administrator Bret Rutherford said that during past contested elections, the three county commissioners who comprise the recount board did the ballot counting themselves.

But those races involved far fewer ballots than the Nov. 6 election, and Rutherford said members of his staff and other election judges would be needed to help speed up the process.

“We’re anticipating five business days. It depends on how big a crew we can get,” he said. “If it was the three county commissioners that would take a long time.”

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