Special Election: Missoula voters ask for new ballots after Gianforte incident

A CNN news crew interviews Missoula County elections supervisor Rebecca Connors early Thursday regarding local voters asking for a new ballot in light of Wednesday night’s incident in which Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly “body slammed” a Guardian reporter over questions relating to the Republican health care bill. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The phones began ringing at the Missoula County Elections Office early Thursday morning with people looking to change their vote or receive a new ballot for today’s special election, which will determine who holds the state’s at-large seat in the U.S. Congress.

The night before, Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly “body-slammed” a Guardian reporter over questions concerning the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Republican health care bill.

Gianforte, who held a single-digit lead in the polls, was charged by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office with misdemeanor assault.

“We’ve been getting dozens of calls this morning, starting at 7 a.m., in light of recent events,” Missoula County elections supervisor Rebecca Connors said early Thursday. “I don’t think the calls would have happened if we didn’t have the situation that unfolded last night.”

A CNN news crew arrived at the elections office early Thursday and planned to live stream coverage from Missoula of Montana’s special election between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist.

Nearly 40,000 Missoula County residents have already voted absentee and did so before the alleged assault occurred Wednesday afternoon in Bozeman. Several dozen of those voters on Thursday morning called the elections office wanting to change their vote.

However, Connor said, doing so is not possible.

“If it’s accepted in the system, we cannot do another ballot,” she said. “It’s because the secrecy envelope and the envelope they signed have parted ways and we cannot go back and retrieve that voted ballot.”

Connors said only a handful of states allow an individual’s vote to be recalled.

Montana isn’t one of them.

“Those other states have electronic voting, so they don’t have a paper trail,” she said. “Because Montana has a paper trail, we can’t do that nullification process.”

Earlier this week, Connors said roughly 61 percent of the absentee ballots issued had been returned. That number had climbed to 66 percent by Thursday morning.

While voters cannot change their absentee ballot, those who vote at the polling place could be influenced by Wednesday night’s events, though Connors expects to see only 5,000 to 8,000 voters arrive at the polls today.

“We don’t know what to expect now,” she said. “It’s been a slow, steady process this morning. We expect it will get busier throughout the day. We have seen as much traffic at the fairgrounds as we have in the past for ballot drop-off, but the day is still early.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com