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Carbon County resident says video shows ballot shredding; state investigating

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Posted at 9:54 PM, Feb 17, 2023

An investigation is underway in Carbon County into allegations of possible ballot shredding on election night last November.

It all started with a complaint from a poll watcher.

The case was first reported to the Carbon County Sheriff's Office. It was handed off to the Red Lodge Police Department and is now with the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

A poll worker says he witnessed the shredding of election material on county surveillance video.

It's video that has Carbon County poll watcher Chip Bennett concerned and asking questions.

It was captured on Nov. 8, election night, on the county's election office security cameras.

"We see our election administrator shredding what appears to us to be absentee ballots," said Lisa Bennett, Chip's wife.

She says the video is partially blocked with a privacy screen but says the video shows 21 batches of documents being run through a shredder.

"We know that there are multiple pages going through," Bennett said. "We can't quite tell how many pages that she's counting."

The Bennetts contacted the county and filed a complaint.

The police asked for help from DCI.

But there is another side to this story. The county says the video doesn't capture with some think.

While no one from the county would speak with MTN News on camera, County Attorney Alex Nixon provided a statement, saying Carbon County officials and employees did not shred ballots as alleged in the video.

"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 fromUniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act(UOCAVA) voters."

That explanation that makes sense to Christina Barsky, a professor of public administration and policy at the University of Montana School of Law School.

"You won't see things shredded that are official documents, things like ballots, or affidavits of any kind," said Barsky, who has also been a poll watcher in Missoula County. "Those all have to be retained on the retention schedule."

She says if what the county says true, it's legal.

Overseas ballots are received via email, and those emails are often shredded after being transposed to ballots.

"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.

But the Bennets aren't convinced.

"What we see in the video does not match up with what they claim it is," Bennett said.

They say the optics of any documents being shredded on Election Day is worrisome at best and they fear the activity captured on video is illegal.

"I'm personally hoping that there's a good explanation for this that it makes sense," Bennett said. "But I'm not hopeful."