BILLINGS — Citing voting machine errors and other alleged Election Day problems, Republican Sandy Welch requested a manual vote recount Monday in the race she narrowly lost for Montana schools superintendent.
Official results had Democrat Denise Juneau leading Welch by 2,231 votes out of more than 468,000 cast in the Nov. 6 election.
An elections expert said the margin of difference appeared too large for Welch to overcome.
But Welch, a Martin City education consultant, said voting glitches in Lewis and Clark, Yellowstone and other counties were widespread enough to make up the difference in the race.
She said those issues compelled her to apply for the recount through state District Court in Kalispell rather than through the Secretary of State's office as had been expected.
"There were some pretty significant problems," Welch said Monday. "We are aware of instances where there were significant errors made in counting ballots and this is the best process to confirm this."
She added that there was no evidence or fraud or other foul play: "It just seems more along the lines of error, and it's because of the number of different errors that we think they can accumulate to make this a win for us," she said.
But elections expert Rob Richie said Monday that she will be fighting long odds in her bid to become Montana's next superintendent of public instruction.
Richie, with the Maryland-based election research group FairVote, said his group analyzed 18 statewide recounts in the U.S. over the past decade. Those recounts on average shifted the vote less than .03 percent, or by just a few hundred votes, he said.
By contrast, Welch lost by .48 percent. That's more than 17 times the average shift found by FairVote, and Richie said "it would be extraordinarily unlikely" for a recount to change the outcome.
"There's been no statewide recount that's resulted in a margin that's remotely near this margin," he said. "Unless there's fraud — a real distortion from someone cheating — it probably won't be there."
Welch will have to cover the costs for Montana's 56 counties to go through almost a half-million ballots that were cast for statewide races. The Secretary of State's office had said those costs were reimbursable even if the outcome were reversed, but Welch said going through the court would give her campaign the chance to reclaim those costs.
The effort is projected to cost the counties almost $115,000. Adding in attorney fees and other expenses, Welch said the total cost to her campaign would top $200,000. She said the Republican National Committee has committed to picking up $100,000 of that amount.
The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Welch's campaign had previously said she hopes to make up ground on Juneau in counties such as Yellowstone, where a surge of last-minute voters led to long lines and problems with election machines meant it took four days to tally the vote.
Richie said voting machine errors typically don't discriminate between candidates, meaning any votes Welch might have lost would have been cancelled out by lost votes for Juneau.
He added that regardless of the outcome, the recount could serve a public service, by either confirming the integrity of Montana's election system or revealing its flaws.