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Montana GOP leadership confirms formation of election integrity committee

Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio

During the upcoming legislative session, Montana lawmakers will launch a six-person select committee dedicated to discussing election integrity.

Montana Free Press last week confirmed the committee’s formation with Senate majority leadership. Responding to emailed questions, spokesperson Kyle Schmauch wrote that the joint committee will include two Republican lawmakers from the House and two from the Senate, along with one Democrat from each chamber. The committee will not have the ability to pass bills to the floor of either chamber, but will have to advance any policy proposals through standing committees in the House or Senate.

“We are being responsive to our constituents who have said they want us to take a closer look at Montana’s election laws and processes,” Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, said in a written statement. “This committee will be a fact-finding and idea proposing entity. It will supplement and will be in addition to our usual legislative committees and lawmaking procedures, not a replacement of any of the Legislature’s normal processes.”

Recently elected House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, was not immediately available for comment.

According to Schmauch, the select committee will be chaired by Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Columbia Falls. The other three Republicans appointed to the committee are Sen. Theresa Manzella of Stevensville, Rep. Jerry Schillinger of Circle, and Rep. Bob Phalen of Glendive. Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, informed MTFP Wednesday that Sen. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte, will represent his caucus on the committee. House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said her caucus had not yet settled on its representative.

A small group of Republican lawmakers spearheaded multiple efforts during the legislative interim to call a special session to establish just such a committee. While their efforts failed to generate support from a majority of state legislators, they did hold at least one meeting last winter as a self-appointed “ad hoc election integrity committee.” The meeting, which was not legislatively sponsored, featured several speakers who promoted baseless allegations that the 2020 presidential election was subject to widespread and coordinated voter fraud.

Manzella, Schillinger and Phalen were among the presiding members of the ad hoc committee. All three also traveled to South Dakota in fall 2021 for an election integrity “symposium” hosted by MyPillow founder and prominent 2020 election denier Mike Lindell. In the months before and since, those lawmakers have been central to a statewide movement among certain conservatives actively questioning the security of Montana’s election procedures.

Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen has not directly addressed any specific allegations regarding election security in Montana, and has declined requests from MTFP for interviews on election integrity issues over the past year. However, she has maintained in public statements that Montana “already sets the standard” for free and fair elections nationally. She also requested the passage of several new election administration laws last session, and is currently appealing to the Montana Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of those laws.