Continental Divides

Conspiracies and Elections

Backed by hundreds of supporters in the state, a citizen cabal went so far last summer as to assert: “Montana’s entire election infrastructure has been corrupted”

By John McCaslin

Fasten your seatbelts; the pivotal 2024 election cycle is upon us.

I’ve already mailed in my completed ballot in advance of the June 4 primary, which of course precedes the all-important November 5 general election, when voters will decide on the future course of this state and nation.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything in this electoral go-round runs smoothly, unlike the bitterly contested 2020 and 2022 elections, neither of which escaped scrutiny in Montana.

Flathead County, you may recall, was among six localities “canvassed” through 2022 by the so-called Montana Election Integrity Project, which zeroed in on the 612,075 votes cast in the 2020 election.

Of the 4,347 residents who opened their doors to canvassers, “we found 1,138 voters … considered to be invalid,” the grassroots group reported. “This is 26.2 percent of the voters canvassed. Extrapolated across the whole state of Montana this represents 120,261 invalid votes!”

Insinuating, in other words, that one of every five votes cast in Montana’s 2020 general election was null and void (if you believe that I have a bridge in Bigfork to sell you).

Without question, various polling issues can and do crop up in one or more of Montana’s voting districts every election cycle. Case in point, last fall’s clerical error that invalidated the Kalispell City Council election.

But there’s a big difference between mistakenly forwarding incorrect ballots to a minimal number of voters, as occurred here, and what the integrity project maintains is rampant statewide voter fraud with coordinated security breaches stretching perhaps to China.

Backed by hundreds of supporters in the state, this citizen cabal went so far last summer as to assert: “Montana’s entire election infrastructure has been corrupted.”

The group said its voter canvassing in the wake of the disputed 2020 election uncovered everything from “inconsistent” and “non-existent” residential addresses to “lost,” “stolen” and even “phantom” votes.

In the ensuing political paranoia, Helena’s Republican supermajority thought it wise last year to empanel its own election integrity committee, with GOP Sen. Carl Glimm of Kila appointed chair.

Wouldn’t you know the other three Republicans chosen to sit on the bipartisan panel, as Montana Free Press reported at the time, had attended an out-of-state symposium in 2021 hosted by MyPillow founder and rabid election denier Mike Lindell (other speakers included Ron Watkins, whose acolytes are convinced is the “Q” in the QAnon conspiracy movement).

Schismatic sideshows aside, Montana’s Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen the entire time has been trying to assure voters that Montana sets the national standard for safe and secure elections.

Without question, the state’s election safety protocols are plenty strict when it comes to detecting and preventing voter fraud, which can consist of ineligible voting, duplicate voting, false registration, signature forging, impersonation at the polls, intimidation at the polls, buying votes, and last but not least altering vote counts at local precincts and central election offices.

“Montana has mandatory procedures for the handling of ballots by election administrators, election judges, and other election workers,” Jacobsen’s office states, with “numerous protocols in place to ensure the validity of Montana’s elections” that include post-election audits of vote tabulating machines.

For what it’s worth, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s national database of voter fraud lists only two criminal cases for all of Montana:

In 2011, a Great Falls-area man admitted to fraudulent absentee voting after he submitted his “ex-wife’s” ballot without her permission; and in 2021, a Gallatin County man pleaded guilty to filling out a voter registration form under the false name “Miguel Raton” – Mickey Mouse in Spanish.

Getting back to the current round of voting, it’s been confirmed that more than 60 percent of Montanans vote absentee in every election.  And the number will likely grow now that Donald Trump has quit insisting that mailed-in ballots are “crooked” and “corrupt.”

In a most spectacular about-face, the former president is now urging his supporters to vote “by mail” in this 2024 election, declaring it safe. It seems his campaign convinced him that Democrats held an advantage with absentee voting, especially in swing states, and if he wants to legitimately win back the White House he’d better get on board.

So, all that’s left to do now is cast our ballots, remembering when doing so that our participation in the democratic process is what keeps this county, state and country strong.

Just remember when voting not to assume the identity of your favorite Disney character. And never ever use an official ballot to get even with an ex-spouse, because he or she will get the last laugh.

John McCaslin is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and author.