State Investigates After Poll Watcher Says Ballot Shredding Captured on Video During 2022 Election Night
State officials are investigating a claim that ballots were shredded on election night last year in Carbon County.
Carbon County poll watcher Chip Bennett and his wife, Lisa Bennett, originally filed a complaint locally, but it is now in the hands of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, according to KTVQ.
Chip Bennett said that a piece of surveillance video appeared to show Carbon County Elections Administrator Crystal Roascio in the process of shredding documents that the Bennetts believe were ballots.
“We see our election administrator shredding what appears to us to be absentee ballots,” Lisa Bennett said, noting that a privacy screen prevents a full view of what was taking place.
Despite the partial view on the video, Lisa Bennett said it still shows 21 batches of documents being run through a shredder.
“We know that there are multiple pages going through. We can’t quite tell how many pages that she’s counting,” she said.
Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said in a statement that no wrongdoing was performed.
“The shredding undertaken by the Carbon County elections administrator, which is depicted in the circulated video, is the shredding of ballot copies received via email from Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act voters,” the statement said.
Christina Barsky, a professor of public administration and policy at the University of Montana School of Law School, buys the official explanation.
“You won’t see things shredded that are official documents, things like ballots or affidavits of any kind. Those all have to be retained on the retention schedule,” she said.
She said emails received with overseas ballots are a different matter.
“If they printed off of a printer in the elections office and then put it on the paper ballot, that printout could be shredded because it’s not a voted ballot,” Barsky said.
The Bennetts stand by their concerns.
“What we see in the video does not match up with what they claim it is,” Lisa Bennett said.
“I’m personally hoping that there’s a good explanation for this that it makes sense,” she said. “But I’m not hopeful.”
The Bennetts and Roascio have clashed before.
Last year, Roascio dismissed challenges to about 300 voters that were filed by Lisa Bennett, according to the Montana Free Press.
In 2021, Chip Bennett was at odds with Carbon county officials over the retention of election records, according to the Western Montana News.
“Carbon County makes it a priority to not save electronic records and to dispose of all records immediately at 22 months; sometimes sooner,” he wrote in an Op-Ed.
“Yet, we are to just simply ‘trust’ them that our elections are safe and secure. Without digital records how can we audit our voting equipment?”
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