A Concerning Election Audit For Missoula County And A Troubling Mayor For Life Joke From A Missoulian Editor

by Travis Mateer

While the filing date for Municipal office isn’t until next month, change is already in the air in Zoom Town. I won’t preempt any announcements with this post, but check out the recent comments for an idea of who Bryan Von Rocket Scientist might be facing to keep his City Council job.

It’s not just possible candidates who are thinking about local elections. Long-time commenter Big Swede provided an interesting link to an article about concerns with mail-in voting for Missoula County. The article, from a news aggregator called Real Clear Investigations, is titled A River of Doubt Runs Through Mail Voting in Big Sky Country.

Here are some of the results from the election audit discussed in the article:

The audit consisted of both a count and review of all ballot envelopes and comparing that to the number of officially recorded votes during the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.

Its conclusions were troubling: 4,592 out of the 72,491 mail-in ballots lacked envelopes— 6.33% of all votes. Without an officially printed envelope with registration information, a voter’s signature, and a postmark indicating whether it was cast on time, election officials cannot verify that a ballot is legitimate. It is against the law to count such votes.

The pandemic-justified changes to how elections are conducted has raised serious concerns about the integrity of elections in Missoula County and across the nation. Here’s more from the article about those concerns:

Still another issue arose during the audit that aroused auditors’ suspicions: Dozens of ballot envelopes bore strikingly similar, distinctive handwriting styles in the signatures, suggesting that one or several persons may have filled out and submitted multiple ballots, an act of fraud.

One auditor asserted that of 28 envelopes reviewed from the same address, a nursing home, all 28 signatures looked “exactly the same” stylistically.

Another auditor reported that among the envelopes she reviewed, two very unique signatures appeared dozens of times, describing one such signature as starting out flat, moving to a peak, and tapering out, and another as consisting of numerous circles — a “bubble signature.”

If I was a candidate for office I would be paying very close attention to this. I would also closely examine the last time our Mayor was up for reelection and how our local media covered his opponent, Lisa Triepke.

To get you started, here is a Missoula Current article that took Triepke to task for “misconstruing” a “Mayor for life” comment. While the pushback from Engen’s camp is interesting, it’s the cozy City Club exchange between Kathy Best, editor of the Missoulian at the time, and Mayor Engen that’s worth nothing. From the link:

The statement in question, as phrased by Triepke, stems from a “State of the City” event hosted by City Club Missoula on March 3. There, Kathy Best, editor of the Missoulian, introduced the panelists, which included Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, University of Montana President Sheila Sterns, and Engen.

In introducing Engen, Best made several jokes and suggested Engen was “mayor for life.”

“Last but not least, Missoula’s 50th mayor, and as some people say, mayor for life – I’m not – (but) he is running again,” Best said in her introduction. “One of the things I enjoyed learning from you, you had a very checkered past, doing time at the Missoulian as both a columnist and copy editor, and actually won some awards doing it.”

Roughly 20 minutes later, when it was his turn to speak, Engen addressed Best’s comment.

“With regard to the mayor-for-life thing, to some of you, I’m sure it feels that way,” Engen said. “But I hope it does not. For me, it feels like the privilege of a lifetime. Serving this community has been a joy and continues to be a joy.”

Yes, John, it does feel that way. But if we have a fair election with unbiased local media giving every candidate a chance to get their message out, that might change.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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