Election Day 2020

Voters fill out their ballots at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Nov. 3.

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A Gallatin County man pleaded guilty to one count of deceptive election practices Tuesday morning for falsifying information on a voter registration application in early 2020, using the name “Miguel Raton,” which is Spanish for “Mickey Mouse.”

Michael Winters was sentenced by District Court Judge Peter Ohman to a six month suspended sentence, a $250 fine plus court costs and 100 hours of community service. He was originally charged with tampering with public records or information, a felony.

“This was a serious offense and, obviously, with all that’s going on with elections now and election integrity, this is something that is obviously front and center,” said Ohman in court Tuesday morning. “Based on the involvement of law enforcement and the County Attorney’s office, really what happened here is it demonstrated that the system does work.”

Winters was represented by attorney Christopher Gray. Gray and Winters both declined to comment further on the case.

“In January of 2020, I submitted a voter registration form in Gallatin County, Montana, using a name and driver’s license number that I knew were false,” Winters said in court Tuesday morning. “ … I apologize to the court and the community.”

Someone filed a complaint in June 2020 against Winters with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission online, according to court documents.

The complaint alleged that Winters filled out and filed a false voter registration application under the name “Miguel Raton,” and that he received a ballot or ballots under the false name.

The FBI first investigated the case. An FBI agent spoke with a Gallatin County elections manager and confirmed that the elections office had received the registration under that name and a request for an absentee ballot — but that it was listed as “provisional” when information in the statewide voter database didn’t match the information on the voter registration application.

Provisional ballots are not counted until the voter resolves the issue.

The Gallatin County Attorney’s Office filed the original charges against Winters on Feb. 4, 2021, just a few months after the 2020 election and former President Donald Trump’s continued false claims that the election was “stolen.”

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud or any large voter fraud conspiracy in the 2020 presidential election.

Winters did receive two ballots, but didn’t vote with either of them and instead hung them on the wall of his metal shop, according to court documents. An FBI agent later took those ballots.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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