GREAT FALLS — Cascade County Election night has concluded as the polls at the Montana Expo Park. Polls officially closed for in-person voting and absentee drop-off.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Cascade County Clerk & Recorder Sandra Merchant assured MTN News that the election process is running smoothly.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Great Falls Public Schools issued a news release mentioning voting “registers." Here is the full text:
On Thursday, April 27 at 4:38 p.m., Sandra Merchant sent email correspondence to Superintendent Moore indicating “We are just finishing printing the registers and can bring them to you tomorrow or Monday. Let me know when and where you would like us to bring them. There were no instructions, information, or direction with respect to the “Registers.”
Superintendent Moore responded at 4:53 pm with; “Thank you, when the registers are ready, please let us know, and Brian Patrick will come down and pick them up” On Saturday, April 29 at 8:46 am Sandra Merchant sent an email to Superintendent Moore stating, “The registers were ready, but your email had gone to junk mail again. Someone will be here all day on Monday so whenever is convenient for Patrick to get them they are ready.” Superintendent Moore then forwarded the e-mail to Brian Patrick.
Brian Patrick picked up the “registers” on Monday morning around 9:20 am. While at the elections office, two employees transported and loaded three unmarked boxes into Mr. Patrick’s car. Again, there was no instruction, direction, or discussion, verbally, or in writing regarding the “registers” and nothing was said about needing the “registers” when the election opened on Tuesday morning. No one indicated to Mr. Patrick whether the “registers” he received were originals or copies. Mr. Patrick brought the “registers” back to the district office and placed them in the vault for safe storage. He reviewed one of the boxes with Superintendent Moore. Having no familiarity with “registers,” Moore and Patrick were puzzled about the materials and why the district would be given “registers” without explanation or direction by the election’s administrator.
On election day, May 2 at 7:10 am, the Superintendent’s administrative assistant received a telephone call from Sandra Merchant asking where the “registers” were. Brian Patrick was asked to be a part of that call. Upon learning for the first time that the registers were needed at the Expo Park, Brian Patrick immediately delivered them to the Expo Park at approximately 7:25 am.
As previous elections were conducted by the County Elections Office, the District has never requested nor received the voting registers before an election.
Following the 5:30 newscast on Tuesday, MTN News remained at the Montana Expo Park from closing time until after the 10:00 pm newscast. We received an update from a man who identified himself as an Elections Employee and a longtime Resolution Board member who assured us that no results would be reported by 10:00 pm; it would be at the earliest midnight to early Wednesday morning.
That same Resolution Board Member who has more than a decade of election experience told MTN News that the main reason ballots were counted later than normal is because of the condition of the absentee ballots. He believed that the way the ballots were initially folded upon mailing, led to voters cutting, ripping, and squeezing the ballots back into the secrecy envelope.
In the instance that a ballot appears to be tampered with from its original state i.e., cutting and ripping. The next step for the election officials is to take those ballots, attempt to decipher which precinct it’s from and re-mark the ballots to their original vote on a clean ballot. It’s taken more time than usual to prepare the absentee ballots.
At the time of this article, there are no results for the Great Falls Public Schools Board of Trustee election.
Cascade County Election Officials began running ballots through the machine at around 9:15 pm.
We will update you as we get more information.
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