Elections Update: Things Just Got Worse

Elections Update: Things Just Got Worse

After hearing Sandra Merchant’s lame presentation last Friday, you probably thought things could not possibly get worse in the County Elections Office. Sorry to burst your bubble, but today things did get worse. 

If you visited or called the Elections Office today, Jan Wenaas may have greeted you with a friendly smile and twinkle in her eye.  She’s happy to have infiltrated the Elections Office camp, working behind the scenes as a self-proclaimed volunteer for Sandra Merchant. So, why is that a problem? 

First, Wenaas is the face of Cascade County’s far-right “Election Integrity” committee, those pesky election deniers who believe the 2020 election was stolen, despite nearly 60 lawsuits whose outcomes proved otherwise. Yes, Wenaas believes The Big Lie; the same lie that MyPillow CEO, Mike Lindell, has been spouting and several Montana legislators have bought into – Steve and Lola Galloway, and Steve Gist to name a few.  

In fact, Wenaas was instrumental arranging the bogus dog-and-pony show last year bringing State Senator Theresa Manzella of Ravalli County and her entourage of election deniers to Great Falls, including some dude from Colorado who claims he witnessed first-hand election malfeasance in his state. Their presentation contended vote count machines results are intercepted by Venezuelans, and the election outcomes changed at the blink of an eye. Wait, what?? 

Finally, Wenaas signed onto a petition sent to then County Commissioners Briggs, Larson and Ryan calling for them to immediately do among other things, the following:

  • Ban mail-in ballots except for overseas military, disabled or other qualified persons 
  • Ballot turn in on election day only, with one day counting
  • Clean voter roles by requiring all qualified county residents to re-register

OMG, why is a woman who clearly does not believe in the state’s voting process sitting in front of a county computer at a desk in the Elections Office? So what that she’s a volunteer.  She has access to the county phones.  Does she also have access to voter registrations? Is she going to be handling ballots – those horrible mail ballots she believes the county should discontinue?  Why is a volunteer working in the sacred space of the Elections Office, anyway?

Shocked yet?  If so, tell your county commissioners: 

[email protected]

[email protected]

Don’t waste your time contacting Commissioner Rae Grulkowski, newly dubbed by many county citizens as Sandra Merchant’s handler.  Probably not worth your time to question the Elections Office self-proclaimed protector. And what’s up with that?

Maybe let Eric Bryson, Executive Director of the Montana Association of Counties, know you are concerned at: [email protected] 
Next thing you know, Merchant will be telling us the vote counting machines don’t work, and everything needs to be hand counted.  Stranger things have happened, or shall we say, are happening.

This flyer was distributed when Wenaas brought Manzella and the election denier crowd to Great Falls.
Wenaas was one of the signers on this utterly insane petition circulated last year.
In My Opinion: Merchant Threatens Our Democracy

In My Opinion: Merchant Threatens Our Democracy

If you like free and fair elections, brace yourself.  Cascade County is in trouble and as a voter, you need to be informed.  Sandra Merchant, election denier and now County Clerk & Recorder refuses to do her job.  She needs to be replaced and soon! Send an email to the following people today and tell them to “Immediately REMOVE Sandra Merchant as Clerk and Recorder for not fulfilling the duties of her elected office.”

[email protected] – Commissioner, Joe Briggs

[email protected] – Commissioner, Jim Larson

[email protected] – Commissioner, Rae Grulkowski

[email protected] – County Attorney, Josh Racki

[email protected] – Elections at the Secretary of State, Dana Corson

[email protected] – Secretary of State, Christi Jacobsen

[email protected] – MT Association of Elected Officials Executive Director, Eric Bryson 

Ask the folks at the Sun River School District who requested a mail ballot election for their board of trustees. Merchant recently informed them she cannot run their requested mail ballot election. Was Sun River School District late with their request?  Heck no, school administrators met required timelines but Merchant sent a letter saying they would need to run a poll election instead. Her excuse?  She claimed the recent closing of IPS, the county’s mailing service, prevents her from running a mail ballot election. In her letter to the School District it states she could not find another source to mail ballots. 

Sound fishy?  It is. In the last year, Merchant and her ilk have publicly derided the mail ballot process, emphasizing their bias for poll elections. So is this Merchant’s backhanded way of eliminating the mail ballot process in Cascade County?  You decide.

Here’s some facts you should know:

  • There are five elections between now and June and possibly two more in the fall – Sun River and Great Falls Public School elections (May), West Great Falls Drainage District (May), Ft Shaw Irrigation election (May), Library levy special election (June). In autumn, the city commission/mayor primary (September) and general election for city commission and mayor election (November).
  • Over 85% of the county’s voters prefer and REQUEST mail ballots for elections.
  • Mail ballots are more convenient for voters AND more cost-effective. It takes hundreds of paid people to run a poll election and a handful to run a mail ballot election.  
  • The Elections office must train and oversee these poll workers. Not sure Merchant knows her job, since word has it that her office called the Sun River School District and asked them who their election judges are. Doesn’t Sandra Merchant know it is HER JOB to get the election judges?
  • The burden for non-county elections is borne by the requesting entity, so a poll election costs the city, library, school districts, water districts, etc. considerably more than a mail ballot election. 
  • The library has been notified that their levy may need to be run in autumn when the city will be running its public safety levy.  No doubt both levies will fail if that happens.  
  • Merchant has also claimed that the redistricting process is going to take time away from planning any mail ballot elections.  That process does not start until July, so why the hold-up for these four spring elections?

IPS mailing services gave ample notice of their business closure. In very early February, Cascade County Commissioner, Joe Briggs, asked Merchant to research other mailing service so mail ballots could be done this spring. Had Merchant contacted Kalispell which has 50,000+ voters in the county, she might have found a solution.  But hey, why look very hard when your objective is to eliminate mail ballot voting?

It’s common knowledge that Merchant does not trust the county’s reliable count machines to tabulate voter ballots. Are Merchant’s gymnastics to eliminate mail ballots just a precursor to hand-counting  ballots in the future? Let’s hope not. 

Ranked-choice Voting: What is Montana so scared of?

Ranked-choice Voting: What is Montana so scared of?

By Eric Buhler

Ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant-runoff voting, is a nonpartisan voting system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than selecting a single candidate. In a ranked-choice voting system, voters mark their ballot by ranking the candidates in order of preference, such as first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on.

In the first round of vote counting, only the first-choice votes are counted. If one candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, that candidate wins the election. However, if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and then the second-choice votes on those ballots are counted instead. This process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

In our current plurality system, a candidate could win with a mere 33% of the vote. This leaves nearly 70% of voters not choosing the winner, sometimes feeling unrepresented, and caught in a game of splitting and wasting their vote. The purpose of RCV is to ensure that the winning candidate has broad support among voters. By allowing voters to rank candidates, RCV can reduce the impact of candidates splitting the vote, promote positive campaigning, and it has been shown to reduce the amount of wasted votes by three times.

A noisy minority, who don’t trust the intelligence of voters, testified at the hearing for HB 598 that RCV is complicated and claimed that voters are unhappy with RCV. However, a vast majority of those surveyed have found it very easy to use and want to use it again–between 75% and 94% (depending on the location surveyed).

RCV is used in several countries around the world, including Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. In the United States, several cities have adopted RCV for local elections, including San Francisco, Oakland, Austin, New York City, Minneapolis and twenty-three cities in Utah. Some states have also adopted RCV for statewide elections, including Maine and Alaska, and seven states use RCV for military and overseas voting.

However, in Montana, even though no jurisdiction uses RCV (and some would argue that our constitution does not currently allow it to be used), HB 598 seeks to preemptively ban RCV from being used or even considered in Montana. 

When HB 598 reached the floor, State Administration Committee member, Rep. Paul Green, changed his vote. When he realized that this ban would expressly limit local communities from choosing RCV for their local elections, he went from supporting the ban to opposing the ban. Had he considered this before, this bill would have died in committee. Despite this important consideration, the ban passed the House on March 3rd, with fourteen Republicans and all Democrats opposing the ban. You will be happy to know that Great Falls representatives George Nikolakakos (HD26) and Scott Kerns (HD23) were among those opposing this ban. 

We can still stop this ban. Please reach out to your Senators, especially committee member Sen. Wendy McKamey (SD12), and ask them to oppose this ban on RCV.

Eric Buhler is the Executive Director of RCV Montana, a grassroots nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to educate Montana about alternative voting methods such as Ranked-choice Voting.

HB645 Will Cause Blood-Shortage Crisis

HB645 Will Cause Blood-Shortage Crisis

Last week, I did something that could become a crime in Montana – I raised my hand, rolled up my sleeve and donated lifesaving blood to help a patient in need.

Introduced by Rep. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City, House Bill 645 would criminalize both blood and organ donation in Montana by anyone who has received a COVID-19 vaccine. It would also make it a crime to receive blood or an organ from a person vaccinated for COVID.

Simply put, this bill would have a devastating impact on our blood supply, our hospitals and patient care across the state. Experts estimate that if it passes, this measure would reduce Montana’s blood supply by 80 percent and have life-and-death consequences for so many who depend on these products being available on hospital shelves. Every two seconds, someone in this country needs lifesaving blood, whether it be a cancer patient, an expecting mom, an accident victim or someone undergoing surgery. Politics shouldn’t get in the way.

Blood can’t be manufactured – the only way to meet patient demand is through the generosity of blood donors. Encouraging people to put a needle in their arm and help someone they don’t know is difficult enough without criminalizing this altruistic act. Blood banks already struggle to meet current needs, and HB645 would have very real and very dire consequences for all of us and our loved ones.

Please let the House Human Services committee know you oppose HB645 by visiting https://leg.mt.gov/web-messaging/ and sending a quick and clear message.

Thank you.

A concerned Montana blood donor

Legalized Discrimination: Medical Providers Foresee Deadly Consequences if HB 303 Passes

Legalized Discrimination: Medical Providers Foresee Deadly Consequences if HB 303 Passes

By Dr. Kate Eby

HB303, presented by its proponents as a bill to provide protections to medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers based on their conscience, presents a real and imminent danger to the health and wellbeing of Montanans. This bill doesn’t just   provide for all of these entities to refuse to participate in certain crucial aspects of medical care (with its primary focus being abortion). It also requires that those who are willing to provide these services provide affirmative consent, in writing, prior to being requested or assigned to participate in these services in any way. 

This bill is dangerous on many levels. First, and perhaps most obviously, it limits the care available to Montanans. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology describes abortion as “an essential component of comprehensive, evidence-based health care.” This bill represents another step to limit access to this critical aspect of healthcare. Abortion is healthcare and should be treated as any other aspect of healthcare would be. Allowing healthcare entities to refuse to provide this service has serious, and potentially fatal, consequences. 

In a case cited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which, under the Trump administration, passed a rule similar to the one currently being considered, abortion services were denied to a patient carrying a nonviable pregnancy. The patient, Tamesha Means, presented to the only hospital within 30 minutes of her – a Catholic hospital. She was 18 weeks pregnant and went into early labor. She was not advised that her pregnancy was likely nonviable, nor was she offered the (medically appropriate) treatment option of terminating her pregnancy. Instead, she was discharged home with pain medication and told to keep her scheduled followup appointment the next week. She returned to the hospital the following morning with a fever and severe pain. Despite her treating physician’s suspicion that she had a severe infection which could result in her infertility or death, she was again discharged home. She returned to the same hospital for the third time that night with severe, painful contractions, and as the hospital was preparing to discharge her home for the third time, she delivered a baby that lived only for a few short hours. Several years later, she sued the Conference of Catholic Bishops, something that the HHS described as an attempt to coerce organizations into performing abortions against their will. 

As a healthcare worker with a lifetime of experience providing care to patients facing emergent and acute illnesses, I can say with confidence that the care she received was substandard by any definition. A patient presented with a severe, life-threatening emergent medical problem – a problem which has a clear and appropriate course of treatment: termination of the pregnancy. However, the organization and its employees, based on religious beliefs, failed to provide her with appropriate care. They endangered her life and wellbeing. HB 303  would allow organizations and healthcare providers in Montana to not only refuse to provide this type of medically appropriate care, it would also allow them to refuse to refer the patient to other sources for this care. In a state with already limited resources, this further narrows the options that patients are given to receive the most appropriate care.

The Lancet, among the oldest and most respected journals in the medical community, put it best when they said, “The Justices who vote to strike down Roe will not succeed in ending abortion, they will only succeed in ending safe abortion. Alito and his supporters will have women’s blood on their hands.” HB303 represents yet another insidious attempt to rob women of reproductive rights and access to safe, evidence-based, medically appropriate healthcare. 

Dr. Kate Eby is a dually certified Family and Adult Geriatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.   She received her masters degree from MSU-Bozeman and completed her doctorate and post-doctoral studies at the University of Colorado. She has practiced in a variety of acute care and inpatient settings. She is also a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League for Nursing, and teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels.


American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (2022). Abortion Policy. https://www.acog.org/clinical-information/policy-and-position-statements/statements-of-policy/2022/abortion-policy

Means vs. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2016). https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca6/15-1779/15-1779-2016-09-08.html 

The Lancet. (2022). Why Roe v. Wade must be defended. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(22)00870-4/fulltext

IMO: Montana Must Stop Celebrating Columbus

IMO: Montana Must Stop Celebrating Columbus

The 2023 Legislative session is shaping up to be one of the ugliest in living memory. Bills attacking Indigenous Peoples, medical privacy, LGBTQ+ children, and the poor have dominated the session. And today, in yet another show of ignorance, Republicans tabled Senator Shane Morigeau’s bill to recognize Indigenous People’s Day.

Attempts to change the name of Columbus Day have been made at the state, local, and national level for years. So today, I’m sharing a piece from Rylee Mitchell, who wrote this piece as a Teen Columnist for the Great Falls Tribune in 2017.   At the time, the requested change was for “Montana Heritage Day” to replace Columbus Day, a measure which also failed. Though this piece is nearly six years old now, Montana decided again today to continue honoring the rapist and genocidal murderer, Christopher Columbus.

This piece was written by Rylee Mitchel and published by the Great Falls Tribune on February 27, 2017.

“Columbus Day or Montana Heritage Day — the name of the holiday might not mean much to you, but to me, as a Native American, it matters quite a lot.

And it’s not just the name of the holiday but also how we teach Native American history in our schools. Learning about Columbus Day involves taking 10 minutes to go over the day he reaches America and how he sailed the ocean blue in 1492 in search of gold, spreading Christianity along the way. Then we jump to Thanksgiving and then to Lewis and Clark with nothing in between. No discussions about boarding schools, wars or mass killings. Native American history gets left in the past.

Let’s not forget that Columbus paved the way for the wicked and cruel murder and rape of the indigenous people.

We are people who don’t deserve to live in the Europeans’ shadow. We deserve to have our stories told in the history books just like everyone else.

By not properly educating people about Native American history, it makes them much less likely to relate to us and understand us. They think we aren’t like everyone else.

But why?

Because of the color of our skin? Because we should be on a reservation?

Ignorance leads to name calling like redskin, Pocahontas and war heads. We aren’t depicted as real people in pictures, just as fictional characters.

“All that Native Americans gave us was land and diseases.”

“Native Americans killed us, like the holocaust.”

“God gave the Indians Europeans to help them.”

I heard all these comments and more when we talked about Native Americans in class last year.

Native Americans still deal with the mass killings of the past. The times when the men went to get food and came back to find all the women and children killed and the camp burned. We deal with the history of boarding school rapes and abuse and the sterilizing of Native American women.

Our tribal members still must cope with all these things, and the drinking that can come with it. We are still getting hurt, stereotyped and treated like we aren’t human. We are lucky we are still here.

Changing the name of this holiday would give a voice to Native Americans and represent a step forward to understanding our culture. We deserve for our history and stories to be told in schools. Education leads to more understanding and fewer labels and stereotypes.

We are human. We deserve to have our story told.”

Rylee Mitchell is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Montana. Rylee is from Great Falls, Montana. Rylee is currently studying Civil Engineering at Montana Tech in Butte, Montana.

Read the original piece here: https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/life/2017/02/26/right-thing-change-name-columbus-day/98372746/