After a federal election, and before the official canvass, the county audit committee shall conduct a random-sample audit of vote-counting machines. The random-sample audit must include: at least 5% of the precincts in each county or a minimum of one precinct in each county, whichever is greater; and: one statewide office race, if any; one federal office race; one legislative office race; and one statewide ballot issue if a statewide ballot issue was on the ballot. If a discrepancy exists between the vote-counting machine totals and the manual count totals, the audit results replace the machine totals. However, in most cases an audit cannot expand to a full recount (see Addressing Discrepancies). Counties that hand count all of their ballots are exempt from the audit.
Unless otherwise specified, statutory references are to Montana Code, Title 13, Chapter 17, Part 5.
Voting Systems Used
As of 2020, Montana uses primarily uses hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners (or hand counts) in polling places statewide, with ballot marking devices for accessibility. For the most up to date information please visit Verified Voting’s Verifier.
For an explanation on the types of voting equipment used, click here.
The audit includes both regular and absentee ballots. Montana’s audit is manual and is “a random-sample audit of vote-counting machines.” More specifically, at least 5% of the precincts in each county or a minimum of one (1) precinct in each county, whichever is greater will be audited. The audit must include an election for one (1) federal office, one (1) statewide office, one (1) legislative office, and one (1) ballot issue.
The random selection is made public, and the audit process itself is open to the public. According to written guidance from the Secretary of State’s Office, “Observers may not be permitted to touch ballots unless specifically permitted by the election administrator or interfere in any way with the hand count.”
Audit Counting Method
The audit is conducted manually.
Type Of Audit Units
Montana uses precincts as audit units.
Contests & Issues Audited
Audits are conducted for a “federal election,” which is defined as an election in even-numbered years in which an elector may vote for individuals for the office of president of the United States or for the United States congress. See, Mont. Code Ann. §13-1-101, “Definitions,” Subsection (19). Audits must include one statewide contest, one federal contest, one legislative contest, and one statewide ballot issue (if possible), though each particular contest is randomly selected. The statutes explicitly prohibit auditing contests regarding judicial retention or in which a candidate (for any office) is unopposed.
If the audit results show a discrepancy “of more than 0.5% of total ballots cast or five ballots, whichever is greater,” a minimum of three additional precincts in that county must be audited, for whichever contest or issue for which the discrepancy was found. The audit cannot be expanded to a full recount, with the exception that if the contest in question is county-wide, and fewer than three additional precincts remain to be audited after the first level of escalation, all remaining precincts must be audited.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
The precincts to be audited must be chosen not more than seven (7) days after the election, but no later than nine (9) days after the election. The audit must be completed at least one (1) day before the county canvass.
Binding On Official Results
In the event of discrepancies between manual audit counts and machine counts, the audit counts replace the machine counts. However, in most cases an audit cannot expand to a full hand count (see Addressing Discrepancies).
Oversight & Conduct
The Secretary of State oversees the audit. The audit is conducted by a county audit committee that is appointed by the county governing body.
Election judges must seal voted ballots in a labeled container and deliver the container to the election administrator before adjourning. The election administrator then submits the materials to the board of canvassers. See, Mont. Code. Ann. § 13-15-205.
Additional Targeted Samples
Montana statute does not provide for targeted samples.