The 2012 Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction lost to Democratic incumbent Denise Juneau by a mere 2,231 votes. The narrow margin prompted Welch to challenge the results, alleging widespread Election Day concerns including ballot machine errors and inappropriate handling of spoiled ballots. A district judge in Flathead County ruled in Welch’s favor last week and ordered her to post a $115,000 bond to pay for a statewide manual recount.
The Montana Republican Party, however, announced Tuesday its fundraising effort fell short of meeting the $115,000. Neither the GOP nor Welch’s campaign reported nearly enough cash in the bank on Nov. 26 to fund the bond. There was some hope that the Republican National Committee would back a portion of both the bond and the cost of hiring Welch’s lead attorney, James Bopp. According to Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood, that “wasn’t a successful fundraising effort” and the GOP fell “pretty short” of raising the total on its own.
“We had reason to hope that we could persuade [the RNC] to donate enough funds to cover most of the bond,” Greenwood says. “However, that just didn’t prove to be the case.”
Welch did manage to snatch one victory from the ordeal. While the recount is off, the investigation launched at Welch’s request could provide additional fodder for conservatives challenging Montana’s voting laws. This year’s election was full of claims of widespread voter fraud, particularly from candidates such as Republican secretary of state hopeful Brad Johnson, and the GOP went so far on election night as to challenge ballots in a variety of counties including Missoula.
“Sandy won a great victory for us in what she got done in court,” Greenwood says.
“At this point now, there is a legal ruling that Montana’s election laws were not followed in some of those procedures. There is a ruling that some vote-counting machines don’t work as accurately as others...and Sandy’s victory in getting that ruling is a great service to every Republican in Montana.”
And that might explain why Welch took her recount request directly to a judge instead of Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, the state’s chief election officer.
Welch has publicly offered to make details from her case available to anyone concerned about Montana’s voting system. Greenwood hopes that, as the 2013 legislative session begins, lawmakers planning to discuss changes to election laws take her up on the offer.