TL,DR? Scroll to the bottom and check out the video breakdown of the shitshow.
Another day, another massive error by Cascade County Clerk and Recorder, Sandra Merchant.
Merchant’s antics today have arguably outpaced her mistakes of the past. But before we get into that, dear reader, here’s a quick and dirty civics lesson.
Election results must be accepted and finalized in a process called a “canvas.” You may recall that the Great Falls Public School Board’s canvas of that election showed significant errors by Merchant, including precincts that didn’t balance. Although the School Board acknowledged these errors, they ultimately decided to accept the canvas, thus solidifying the results of the election.
Fast forward to the Great Falls Municipal Election. The Election Protection Committee (EPC) reported a number of errors with this election, including double ballots which could be voted twice, and voters receiving ballots for the Great Falls election despite not living in the city. Over 100 voters were turned away at the Expo Park on election day. Then, midway through the day, a ballot box was delivered to the Expo Park, and over 100 ballots were accepted at that location. The entire day was a debacle, once again caused by Merchant’s failure to communicate with the press and the community.
That brings us to today, Monday, November 20, 2023. Today Sandra Merchant attempted to hold the canvas for the Great Falls Municipal Election. The problem? Merchant failed to provide the required 48-hours notice to the public. And thus the shitshow began. Merchant scheduled the canvas for 3:00 today, despite ignoring the rules for notifying the public. When the Election Protection Committee (EPC) learned of this meeting, volunteers quickly assembled at the County Commission Chambers.
Citizens were left waiting as the hour drew near and neither Commissioner Rae Grulkowski nor Sandra Merchant were anywhere to be found. Less than an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin, it was canceled.
The EPC soon learned the reason behind the cancellation. Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson refused to attend the meeting. The Commissioners knew that the required 48-hours public notice had not been provided. Rather than attend a potentially unlawful meeting, Briggs and Larson refused to attend. Thus, Commissioner Grulkowski was without the necessary numbers to hold a quorum, and the canvas was not held.
Merchant has now rescheduled the canvas for Wednesday, November 22, 2023. Despite the fact that scheduling a public meeting the day before Thanksgiving is not serving the public’s interest, it’s also, literally, too late. Per the Secretary of States’ “Municipal Primary and General Election Calendar” Merchant must conduct the canvas on or before November 21, 2023. There is no way for Merchant to meet this deadline AND provide the required 48-hours notice.
Once again, Merchant has failed to perform even the most basic functions of her job duties. First, Merchant failed to schedule the canvas before the November 21, 2023 deadline. Then, Merchant attempted to hold a potentially unlawful meeting to accept the canvas, without providing the proper public notice. Merchant has blamed others for her mistakes at every turn.
Incorrect information printed in the newspaper? Blame the Tribune, even though Merchant is ultimately responsible for review of printed materials. Duplicate ballots? Blame the printer, even though Merchant’s procrastination kept the ballots from being printed in-house.
Sending ballots to deceased voters? Blame the previous Clerk and Recorder even though a basic understanding of chronological time shows that pulling the deceased list was, and has been, Merchant’s responsibility since January 1, 2023.
However, Merchant cannot blame today’s error on anyone but herself. Despite her campaign platform of “transparency” it was Merchant herself who failed to notify the public, who attempted to hold a public meeting WITHOUT the public’s knowledge, and failed to conduct the canvas before the required deadline.
Wondering who to blame for all these errors, Ms. Merchant? We suggest you look in the mirror.
Mary Sheehy Moe: Foxes and doggies and frogs – Oh my!
I struggle to find the apt analogy: The dog that finally catches the bus? The frog that doesn’t notice the water is boiling? The fox in the henhouse?
All of the above swirl around the drain of what’s happening to the most fundamental of our democratic rights — the right to vote. The nationwide wave of efforts to discourage voting laps even at Montana’s shores. On the pretext of securing election integrity, Republicans continually advance bills making it harder for some populations to vote — Native Americans, college students, the homebound, people who can’t get off work or find a way into town on two different days to register and then to vote.
But now we’re seeing a new twist — relentless efforts to discredit those who run our elections and replace them with election deniers. In 2022, election deniers comprised 80% of the candidates running nationwide in secretary of state races. Half won their primaries. Only 8% ultimately won the seat. Thankfully, most voters don’t want a Fox-fed fox in their most precious henhouse.
Unfortunately, there’s more. Since late 2020, 161 chief local elections officials (40%) in 11 Western states, Montana included, left their positions. The average experience levels in those 161 offices plummeted from approximately eight years to about one. With the cybersecurity, technology and legal issues surrounding elections, experience matters. As the cross-partisan political reform group Issue One cautions, inexperienced elections officers are “more prone to making small mistakes based on lack of knowledge — mistakes that, however innocuous, may be interpreted by hyper-partisans as malicious acts.”
What those 161 offices have now isn’t a fox in the henhouse, but a dog who caught the bus. This inexperience feeds the very narrative election deniers were yipping between howled lies before the newbies were elected. You need look no farther than Great Falls, to see how alarmingly this dog don’t hunt. Since being elected clerk and recorder in 2022, the election denier there has fouled up election after election.
In May, flood and irrigation district elections were so riddled with errors that both districts have turned to the courts for resolution.
The school board election was even worse — contradictory ballot instructions, misfolded ballots hampering ballot-counting, some voters receiving two ballots, others getting none, voters who work unable to vote because the polling place opened late, signature verification hindered by the fact that ballots were separated from envelopes … in short, so many gaffes that the court appointed an election monitor to oversee the next election.
Enter June’s library levy election: miscommunication on election dates, instructions so erroneous they had to be reprinted three times, multiple ballots to the same voter; no ballots for some voters … same-new, same-new.
And in the municipal elections last week, the nightmare continued. In addition to the now-usual dysfunction, inadequate prior notice had voters reporting to the usual polling place (the fairgrounds), where they were directed to the elections office, a small space on a busy downtown street with parking at a premium. Already disgruntled, voters plugged meters and queued up to enter a room whose very décor screamed partiality.
An enlarged Corinthians quote and a big ceramic elephant dominated the counter space. The walls were filled with pithy, pick-a-fight quotations incongruously placed next to more charitable tokens. My favorite: A large wooden cross adjacent to an even larger picture of a longhorn emblazoned with the words, “Do No Harm. But Take No Bull.” Jesus would be so pleased.
These are relatively small-potatoes local elections with low voter turnout. But 2024 is just around the corner. What’s that, Kermit? Water too warm?
Find the original article here: https://helenair.com/opinion/column/mary-sheehy-moe-foxes-and-doggies-and-frogs-oh-my/article_cd5c55f6-83d9-11ee-a5d6-43e02c899978.html
Today’s County Commission meeting saw heated discussion of Commissioner Rae Grulkowski’s performance, or rather her failure to perform. Grulkowski is finishing a the remaining two years of a six year term which was originally held by Jane Weber. The puppeteer behind the inane ventriloquist dummy that is Sandra Merchant, Grulkowski has thus far spent her time in office acting as Merchant’s body guard. At public meetings, Grulkowski has prevented Merchant from answering questions, and even tried to stop public comments that were critical of Merchant. It’s no surprise that Grulkowski, like Merchant, is a conspiracy theorist. In fact, she got her pollical start by spreading lies about the proposed National Hertiage Area. The damage she did to our community was so unprecedented and severe that the New York Times featured her in their article “Where Facts Were No Match For Fear.”
From the article:
“Ms. Grulkowski had just heard about a years-in-the-making effort to designate her corner of central Montana a national heritage area, celebrating its role in the story of the American West. A small pot of federal matching money was there for the taking, to help draw more visitors and preserve underfunded local tourist attractions.
Ms. Grulkowski set about blowing up that effort with everything she had.
She collected addresses from a list of voters and spent $1,300 sending a packet denouncing the proposed heritage area to 1,498 farmers and ranchers. She told them the designation would forbid landowners to build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land, she said.
None of this was true.”
You can read the entire article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/24/us/politics/montana-misinformation-national-heritage.html
The New York Times put it best when explaining that Grulkowski and her ilk are “divorced from reality” a condition which has clearly impacted her ability to function as a County Commissioner.
On November 7 Cascade County voters struggled to vote in another confusing and poorly administered election. In the run up to the election, voters contacted a volunteer monitoring group, The Election Protection Committee, with a host of problems including some voters who did not receive their ballot in the mail and others who received numerous ballots in the mail. Surprisingly, some voters residing outside the city limits received ballots even though they were ineligible to vote in yesterday’s city election. Ironically, still others were denied a ballot because the Clerk and Recorder’s office could not decipher city boundary lines and erroneously did not believe they were city residents.
When election day arrived, voters discovered they could not obtain a ballot nor deposit their voted ballots at the fairgrounds. For decades, voters could obtain a ballot, replace a damaged or lost ballot or same-day register and vote at the fairgrounds for the municipal election – 108 people showed up yesterday to vote and were sent downtown to the Election Office. In addition, 180 voted ballots were not permitted to be deposited at the fairgrounds, instead voters were instructed to deposit their voted ballots at the Election Office. There, voters encountered difficulties finding parking and long lines because of the limited space. No one knows how many of the people who started their voting journey at the fairgrounds simply gave up and did not vote because of time constraints and inconvenience.
It’s easy to say, “Well, election problems didn’t really matter because of the wide margins between the winning and losing candidates.” Only 73 votes separated Shannon Wilson and Eric Hinebauch in their race for city commission. Sandra Merchant’s foul ups could account for that difference. Just like the school board trustee election last spring, none of these candidates are likely to contest this election (even if they think there were significant errors) because of the potential cost to re-run an election.
That’s all well and good, but the next elections Merchant will oversee include all of the state-wide offices and a US Senate and Congressional Races. These campaigns will have the resources to challenge any problems they see. The truth is Sandra Merchant’s incompetence could determine the control of the US Senate in the next general election. And that is a scary thought.