An independent poll watcher has filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner for Political Practices and the Missoula County Elections Office, charging that Councilmember-elect Ed Childers committed campaign violations on Election Day in the Missoula City Council’s Ward Six race.
Poll watcher Bonnie Gee alleges in a complaint filed Monday that Childers failed to remove campaign signs that were located within 200 feet of polling places, a violation of state election laws, even after he was notified on several occasions that the signs were positioned illegally at St. Joseph’s, Roosevelt, Emma Dickenson and Franklin schools.
“I call anyone I see in violation of the law,” says Gee, who often volunteers as a poll watcher during elections. “I called him as a courtesy and he literally challenged me on this and said, ‘This doesn’t apply to me.’”
Childers, who was unaware that the complaint had been filed, admitted that he had received a phone call on Election Day complaining about one of his signs, but that the sign was removed shortly thereafter.
“I did in fact talk to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office after the first call [from Gee], and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office did tell me that they felt that a passive sign located anywhere not on school grounds was within the limits of the law,” Childers says. “Signs that were complained about did get removed.”
Childers, a former Missoula City Treasurer who ran for mayor in 1997, defeated Naomi De Marinis by a 57-vote margin. Childers dismisses the allegations as nothing more than a political attack from his opponents.
“The New Party is really stressed at all the money that they and Progressive Missoula put into the campaign that didn’t result in a complete sweep of the elections, and they’re going to lose a seat on the City Council,” Childers said.
But Gee, who admits that she supported DeMarinis’ candidacy, emphasizes that DeMarinis had no involvement in this complaint and denies that her complaint was politically motivated.
“I truly believe this was a deliberate election day strategy,” says Gee. “This is not personal about Ed or this particular race. Everyone is harmed when election laws are not followed. And in a race decided by 57 votes, you have to ask yourself, ‘Did this deliberate action in fact affect the results of this election?’”
Linda Vaughey, Montana Commissioner for Political Practices, said the complaint will be reviewed by her legal counsel. She then has five days to decide whether her office will accept the complaint, at which time it will either be dismissed or sent to the Montana Department of Justice for further investigation. Depending upon the outcome of that investigation, it could be weeks or months before a final ruling is issued.