GREAT FALLS — Monday began the official recount for the Cascade County Clerk & Recorder race with original counts recording a 31-vote margin of victory for Sandra Merchant over incumbent Rina Fontana-Moore, with nearly 30,000 ballots tallied.
The three county commissioners - Don Ryan, James Larson, and Joe Briggs - oversaw the re-counting per usual but decided this time to appoint a third-party contract to eliminate any conflicts of interest.
The man overseeing the official recount is Bret Rutherford, of Rutherford Consulting in Yellowstone County. There was some backlash to his appointing, due to his affiliation with incumbent Fontana-Moore, though Rutherford says this is purely speculation.
“Well, there’s 56 EA’s (election administrators) in Montana, and obviously we’re going to probably know each other because we do training together and whatnot. It’s professional association, just like anything else in the world, and everybody takes their job seriously and keeps the intent with a higher regard. I don’t think there’s any conflict of interest, and I wasn't contacted by the Election Office in Great Falls,” says Rutherford.
He continued, “There has been no evidence of any widespread voter fraud anywhere in Montana. There might be some anecdotal things here or there, an isolated incident, but it's a it's a good process. Montana has one of the best election processes in the country, and I think the public should be confident in the results.”
The county had to spend roughly $5,000 on the recount process, but those involved believe it’s money well spent. Those overseeing the recount believe this will prove the efficiency of voting machines ability to count effectively.
“This is a way to prove the fact that these voting machines are very, very accurate. They do a good job. Hand counting a whole election, and every single race would be a monumental task. If the machine was making a mistake than we will have an accurate count and make sure that we're in the margin of what's allowable for a recount and to make sure the right winner, the people's choice, is the one the people choose in this particular race,” says County Commissioner, Don Ryan.
The team was originally optimistic the recount would conclude Monday evening, and an official winner would be declared, but as the day are on, it became increasingly apparent the count would have to continue at least until Tuesday.
“We'd be very, very optimistic that we'd be done today. Hopefully by tomorrow we should be able to finish up,” said Ryan.
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