The library mil election is over and the library won. That’s a good thing. Now Merchant’s supporters and some in the media are saying that it shows she is getting better at running elections. Don’t buy it.
Truth is the supporters of the library went to court because of their concerns about errors Merchant made in the month before the election. Some of the errors in the May school election included:
-Absentee ballots not being sent to certain voters in the school election.
-Failing to verify signatures before separating secrecy envelopes and ballots
-Turning voters away because voting registers were not available
-Ballots were folded improperly and didn’t fit in return envelopes
-Voters receiving absentee ballots which were not sealed
The library levy supporters went to court arguing that a similar pattern was emerging in the library levy election and asked the court to appoint a monitor to assure the library election was run correctly. The district court judge agreed and appointed Lynn Deroche, a former election department supervisor, to monitor Merchant and her employees and make regular reports to the court. Merchant and Cascade County resisted the appointment and had outside counsel to represent them in the proceeding, Then the county’s lawyer objected to correspondence from the library’s lawyers requiring another hearing before the judge. The court denied the objection.
When election day came, we did not see the same screw ups that characterized the school election and the special district elections which are now heading into litigation. Truth is the library election would not have gone as smoothly as it did had the monitor not been in the clerk and recorder’s office every day to make sure the rules and the law were followed. Not exactly what we consider a smooth election.
If you’ve been to any of the recent meetings about election problems in Sandra Merchant’s office, you may have noticed a tall woman with shoulder-length, blond hair domineering discussions, even interrupting Sandra Merchant to “help explain and clarify” the Clerk and Recorder’s responses to questions. At the April 25 test of the vote counting equipment, she was confronted by a person in the audience who asked, “Who are you?” She responded that she is an election judge. . .as though that makes her an expert on Montana election law.
Well, her name is Julie Bass. She is not a lawyer, though she appears to think she is. She has no direct experience administering elections in Montana, though that doesn’t stop her from telling you the rules. Her experience as an election judge does not qualify or differentiate her from the dozens of other election judges in the county. Her only expertise in elections, as far as we can tell, comes from her attendance at and participation in local election denier groups. And now, it seems, she thinks she is running the Clerk and Recorder’s office.
Bass was one of the lead organizers of the election denier group that spent a year harassing Rina Fontana Moore and her staff. Their unhinged behavior included following staff to their vehicles and taking pictures of them. However, when confronted with members of the public peacefully observing Merchant and her volunteers, Bass claims folks are being unkind.
At Merchant’s notoriously pedestrian public presentation, Bass defended Merchant and condemned local citizens demanding accountability. Bass and her ilk now claim the Election Protection Committee is engaging in the same type of intimidation tactics and election denial her group promoted in 2022.
Bass, Merchant, and County Commissioner Rae Grulkowski believed wholeheartedly in the claims that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. They blindly accepted the Fox News lies about election security. Some of them attended training by election conspiracy ring-leader Mike Lindell.
And now the facts about the election deniers conspiracy theories are in. Fox News took a major hit when Dominion won their defamation lawsuit in court. Fox has since had to admit their election fraud claims were lies. They’re paying for those lies to the tune of $787.5 million. Unfortunately for Great Falls, none of that matters to Bass, Grukowlski, and the far-right Pachyderm Club. They continue promoting wacky conspiracy theories and probably will continue to do so until the day they die. They used these lies to elect Sandra Merchant, whose incompetence is already costing Cascade County.
Whereas Bass’s inane conspiracy theories have been proven to be based purely in fiction, the Election Protection Committee’s claims are supported by truth and fact.
Fact: Superintendent Tom Moore reported receiving two different totals for the May 2, 2023 school board election. The difference between the numbers provided by the Election Administrator and those provided by the County Attorney were 75 votes.
Fact: Voters reported receiving MULTIPLE ballots for the School Board Election. Two precincts with over 400 voters didn’t receive absentee ballots whatsoever. On election day, voters were turned away because Sandra Merchant opened the polls late.
Fact: Merchant’s glaring errors were significant enough to convince a judge to appoint an Election Monitor to protect the integrity of the library levy.
Fact: Voters in both the Fort Shaw Irrigation District and West Great Falls Flood and Drainage Control District have file a lawsuit due to Merchant’s errors. Their attorney described the election as “a complete failure.” Read excerpts from his scathing letter here:
So as Julie Bass continues to hold court at any meeting regarding elections, we wonder, is she also assuming responsibility for these numerous errors? Bass is neither a county employee nor an elected official, though she has certainly inserted herself as a public figure. Why, then, is she being allowed to speak on behalf of Merchant? Why are members of the public having their questions for Merchant intercepted by an election denier with no authorization to speak on behalf of the county? And at what point do Cascade County officials have an obligation to stop the takeover of the Elections office by a fringe group of conspiracy theorists?
Local news has been hard to come by since the Great Falls Tribune suffered a drastic reduction in force. So, we’ll be highlighting state and local journalists who are working hard to cover Montana happenings. Today’s selection is a piece from The Daily Montanan. The same White Christian Nationalism that dominated the 2023 Legislative Session has also shaped Great Falls’ politics for the past two election cycles. Read about this dangerous movement here:
White Christian Nationalism and the 2023 Montana Legislature
With mere days left in the 2023 session, Montana legislators have failed to perform even their most basic duties, like passing our state’s budget. Instead, they’ve moved full-bore into a culture war. House Speaker Matt Regier and the antithetically-named “Freedom Caucus” have cast an international shadow over Montana. Their spurious attacks against Representative Zooey Zephyr have been featured in outlets ranging from the New York Times to the BBC.
Regier has argued that Zephyr violated decorum and that Regier is simply following the rules and standards of the Legislative body. A quick examination of those arguments shows that Republicans have spent the session spewing their own indecorous rhetoric, far exceeding the mild metaphor used by Rep. Zephyr. We’ve seen the likes of Representative Braxton Mitchell claim that those testifying against his bill were unemployed folks who have nothing better to do with their time. We’ve watched the Freedom Caucus intentionally and consistently misgender Representative Zephyr. We’ve even seen Republicans explicitly state that neither students in schools nor members of the Montana Legislature owe one another respect. Listening to his own party’s dialogue through the session, Regier’s sudden pearl-clutching and calls for decorum ring entirely hollow.
Let’s call it what it really is. Republicans can say anything they want – with no standards for basic human decency or even scientific accuracy. They can lie. They can insult their colleagues and the voters, and they will have no consequences. Whereas Democrats must listen quietly and daren’t say anything that would hold these evil-doers accountable for their discriminatory laws and words.
Yesterday, every single Montana House Republican voted to censure Zephyr. That censure banned Zephyr from the floor for the rest of the session. However, Regier assured Zephyr could continue to participate on her assigned committees and vote remotely.
That lie lasted less than 24 hours.
Today Zephyr sat on a bench in the Capitol and worked from her laptop. She may not be allowed on the floor, but she’s allowed elsewhere in the building. But shutting Zephyr out, literally, wasn’t enough for the GOP. Instead, they attempted to move Zephyr from that bench, despite her being in full compliance with the terms of her censure. It’s clear they don’t want Zephyr seen nor heard. This is some petty bullshit.
But wait, there’s more!
Multiple Representatives confirmed that their committees have been canceled. The remaining bills have been transferred to different (and many wholly inappropriate) committees. Those sudden cancellations only occurred in the committees on which Rep. Zephyr sits. This move not only silences Zephyr, but all of us whose Representatives are on those canceled committees. Now, not only is Zephyr’s district losing its representation, but so are thousands of other Montanans, including Great Falls.
Republicans are taking their fascism one step further, and it’s a huge fucking step.
They’re keeping the gallery closed, locking out both citizens and journalists, in what many online speculate is a clear violation of Montana’s open meeting laws. Journalists are not being allowed entry into meetings and some have even reported having their press passes revoked.
Silencing duly elected representatives, moving bills to the wrong committees, disenfranchising the voices of thousands of Montanans, and locking out the press. This is the Montana GOP, and they’re a fucking embarrassment.
“When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross”
This quote is often attributed to Sinclair Lewis, author of numerous classic American novels, including It Can’t Happen Here in 1935 about a fascist takeover in the United States. You may not have noticed on the lower right hand corner of the anti-library billboards around town there is a small photo. Most people probably don’t even see it. Even if they do, most people don’t know what it is supposed to mean. But for travelers in the “Christian Nationalist” movement, it is a powerful symbol of their belief in forcing the rest of us to follow their rules. Ironically the only other place you commonly see this symbol is on the lapel pins of far-right legislators in the Montana Legislature.
Separation of Church and State? This anti-library group wants just the opposite.
These potentially libelous signs are up on two main streets in Great Falls.
It’s a small thing but a “thing” nonetheless. Some of the far-right crowd that hangs out in Great Falls formed a group to oppose the library mil levy with the usual attacks about drag shows, promoting pornography and generally that reading books is unAmerican. They named their new group The Liberty and Values Project. Upon hearing that news, WTF 406 looked to see if they registered the new name with the Secretary of State’s office. Turned out they hadn’t, so we did and notified them to quit using our registered business name. (See our letter). On April 21 they filed an amended registration with the Commissioner of Political Practices changing their name to Liberty and Values.MT and filed the new name with the Secretary of State’s office.
We believe that they have printed materials with the old name and are likely to use them anyway. If you see printed or electronic materials that use the old name, “Liberty and Values Project” please take a photo and let us know so we can take appropriate action. Thanks.
“April 16, 2023
Re: Violation of Registered Business Name Law
This letter is to inform you that you are using a business name, “Liberty and Values Project,” which is registered to WTF406 with the Montana Secretary of State. You have no authority to use this registered business name.
The purpose of this letter is a formal request to cease and desist from the use of the business name, “Liberty and Values Project.” We are the owners of the registered business name, “Liberty and Values Project.” We believe that using that name would put you in violation of the statutes enforced by the Montana Secretary of State.
In addition, because you have used that name in filing for an independent committee with the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices (CoPP), we also believe you may have violated statutes enforced by that office. You should immediately rescind, revoke, and cancel this registration with the CoPP.
Our registered business name, “Liberty and Values Project” may not be used on any materials such as flyers, stickers, buttons, pamphlets, brochures, yard signs or other printed materials. This also includes accounts on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok, or in contracted paid advertising of any sort. You should immediately gather all distributed materials attributed to “Liberty and Values Project,” cease distribution of the same, and dispose of any such materials.
WTF 406 “