The Election Protection Committee released the following statement this evening detailing numerous issues with the Great Falls Municipal Election.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 6, 2023
From: Election Protection Committee
Municipal Election Problems Raise Voter Suppression Concerns
GREAT FALLS – Election day in Great Falls was plagued with widespread confusion, resulting in numerous voters being turned away at the Expo Park. Sandra Merchant failed to make any effort to inform local media and the general public that voting would only take place at the Courthouse Annex building. For over a decade, election day voting has taken place at the Expo Park. Merchant rented the Expo Park but inexplicably chose to use the location for vote counting only. Volunteers with the Election Protection Committee spent the day monitoring issues at both locations. Volunteers note that by 4:30pm at least eighty-five (85) voters had been turned away from voting at the Expo Park and told to go to the Annex. Individuals brought 175 ballots to Expo Park and were told they had to deposit them at the Annex. Voters at the Annex reported issues such as not receiving their ballots, and long lines to also prompted some voters to leave without having cast their ballot.
The Election Protection Committee has received many emails from voters with complaints about the municipal election including the ones seen today. Numerous errors have been reported. Merchant’s explanation for these errors and her claim that these issues are resolved is disputable. Reports suggest voters are being disenfranchised, a subtle form of voter suppression.
Complaints run the gamut. Some voters did not receive a ballot in the mail. Some voters received multiple ballots and the explanation from the election office of a “printer jam” cannot be blamed. As Jane Weber, spokesperson for the Election Protection Committee explained, “ a printer jam cannot generate two ballots having different bar codes and different voter identification numbers for the same voter. That is caused by human error in the election office, likely double entries created in the voter database.” More concerning is that both of those ballots could be voted, and the vote tabulator would never detect the error. Weber further explained, “for those who think a hand-count would catch these double ballots, think again, the human eye would never distinguish these subtle differences in the numbers and codes during the signature verification process.”
One household reported they did not receive their ballots. When they visited the election office, they were informed they did not live within the city limits. The voter submitted this email message to the Election Protection Committee, “I am at the election office now and am being told I am designated rural and thus do not qualify for a ballot. In fact, I do reside in the city. I had to insist this issue be escalated to double or triple check. I was just told by one of the county employees here that Sandra Merchant doubled checked this and confirmed my residence is in the city. I’m still in the election office waiting to hear what is next. I feel there are likely many voters being disenfranchised due to errors this election.”
One household reported receiving three ballots for a deceased family member. That might be understandable if one ballot had been sent and if the deceased had recently passed. Weber said, “in this disturbing situation, the individual died the last week of December 2022, and their name should have been removed from the voter database by the current election office administration who assumed their duties just a week later in January 2023.”
One voter who did not receive a ballot visited the election office to determine the problem. The voter was told their ballot was undeliverable. The voter questioned the undeliverable status since ballots had successfully been delivered to the address for decades. When the ballot was retrieved by the election office staff, the street address on the mailing packet had been smeared and was unreadable, clearly a printing issue. The post office returned the ballot to the election office, and no further action was taken by the election staff. BUT, the voter’s name was clearly printed and could easily have been looked up in the voter database. The address label could have been corrected and remailed. INSTEAD, the ballot never arrived and the voter was never notified. Had the voter not taken the initiative to track down their ballot, or if the voter had not been able to take time away from work to visit the election office, the voter would likely not have voted in this election.
The complaints received by the EPC indicate mistakes continue to occur in the election office. The EPC will continue to monitor election errors and reminds voters to contact [email protected] to report ballot issues or concerns.
Weber said, “We will continue to hold Sandra Merchant accountable until safe and secure elections are restored in Cascade County.”