Cascade County clerk and recorder election recount completed, Merchant remains winner

The hand recount for the Cascade County clerk and recorders race has been completed and Sandra Merchant is the winner.

The recount began at 8 a.m. Nov. 28 after the current clerk and recorder, Rina Fontana Moore, requested the process.

In the certified results of the election, Merchant won by 31 votes.

County election recount underway

Moore requested the recount, which is allowable by state law when the result is within a quarter of one percent of the votes cast in the race and is requested by the losing candidate.

At the conclusion of the recount around 10 a.m. on Nov. 29, the two were apart by 36 votes, with Merchant still ahead.

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County Commissioners hired Rutherford Consulting of Yellowstone County to oversea the process to avoid any conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

The process included 28 county staff members sorting and hand counting ballots with observers designated by both candidates, commissioners and county legal staff.

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“As expected, there were some slight differences in the totals between the machine count and the hand count due largely to the human factor in the manual counting of votes. Each ballot was counted at least twice and verified by at least two different count teams but still differences existed between the manual counts generated by the teams in some precincts. In some cases, a third team was utilized to attempt to get to a matching number. None of the variances would have impacted the outcome however so ultimately, the differences were accepted,” Commissioner Joe Briggs said in a release.

The other change between the machine and hand count were ballots that the machines had been counted as an overvote.

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Those were ballots on which the voter had marks in both ovals so the machine counted neither as valid.

The commission reviewed those ballots and unanimously agreed that the voter had intended to vote for one or the other candidate and the ballot was counted accordingly, Briggs said.

The official election results had the following results:

  • Rina Fontana Moore: 14,300
  • Sandra Merchant: 14,331

The final results of the hand recount are:

  • Rina Fontana Moore: 14,306
  • Sandra Merchant: 14,342

Merchant had filed a civil lawsuit on Nov. 25 seeking to stop the recount. On Nov. 26, she filed an amended complaint, which was assigned to Judge John Parker.

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On Nov. 27, Parker recused himself from the case and it was sent to Judge Robert Olsen of the 9th Judicial District, which includes Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties.

Olsen accepted jurisdiction but did not issue an order in the matter so the recount continued and was completed. After the recount was completed, Olsen filed an order denying Merchant’s request for an injunction, according to court documents.

The total cost will depend on the method and staffing used as well as the number of days required but Rutherford’s bid amount for his services to run the process is $4,300 plus per diem and travel assuming a one-day recount, Briggs told The Electric.

The contract with Rutherford allowed for additional charges if the recount continued today so Briggs said he expected to be billed for another two hours, but that the commission had not yet received the final bill.