By a vote of 2 to 1, Cascade County Commissioners voted on Tuesday to remove election duties from the County Clerk & Recorder's Office.
Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson voted in favor of the proposal, and Commissioner Rae Grulkowski voted against it.
The vote came after more than five hours of testimony and public opinion.
Briggs said the commission will appoint an interim election official until a permanent one can be hired.
(1st REPORT, 2:30 p.m.) Cascade County Commissioners kicked off a meeting on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, at Montana ExpoPark to discuss a proposal that would remove election duties from the County Clerk & Recorder’s Office, and appoint a new staff member to oversee elections.
The meeting drew scores of attendees, many of whom stood in line to voice their opinion about the proposal.
The meeting began at 9:30 a.m., and as of 2 p.m., there is still a line of people queued up to address the commissioners.
Commissioner Joe Briggs introduced the resolution that would strip election duties from the Clerk & Recorder's Office, currently headed by Sandra Merchant.
Click here to read the full text of the resolution.
Briggs said the main concern he’s heard from constituents is that an elected official should not oversee the election process.
“We had a lot of people coming in with concerns about the election and at every commission meeting, we were getting folks expressing their concerns. And one of the themes that came out of it, certainly not the only theme, but one of the themes was how can you trust an election where the person who's in charge of the election is on the ballot,” Briggs said. “And so I actually tried to accomplish this before that election because it became clear to me that was a very valid question. Why should an elected official who's on the ballot be in charge of the process counting the vote?”
Merchant, who was elected to office in 2022, believes the move is personally and politically motivated.
“Joe Briggs has been talking about it since I won the election, and he's brought it up several times. And I figured it would be before the next election. Because it's political. A lot of it's political,” Merchant said. “I think there's a lot of animosity as well. I have never seen such hatred and vitriol and it's been surprising to see all that. I didn't think local government would be that way, but it is."
Commissioner Briggs and commissioner Jim Larson are expected to vote in favor of the resolution, while commissioner Rae Grulkowski, an ally of Merchant, has indicated she will oppose. All three commissioners are Republicans.
If the resolution passes, Briggs said the commission will appoint an interim election official until a permanent one can be hired.
As for Merchant, she would focus on other duties of the Clerk and Recorder and vacate the elections office.
We will update you once the commissioners vote on the proposal.
On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, Merchant and Grulkowski conducted an extended interview with KRTV reporter Ryan Gamboa: