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Merchant releases election information for Cascade County

Sandra Merchant (April 25, 2023)
Posted at 11:53 AM, Apr 26, 2023

On Tuesday, April 5, 2023, the Cascade County Elections Department conducted a public test of ballot-counting equipment.

Cascade County Clerk & Recorder Sandra Merchant demonstrated the process and answered questions from the public about the School Board Trustee ballots which were mailed out last Tuesday.

Merchant walked through the process, which featured a stack of 255 test ballots issued by the company that makes the machine. Those ballots were counted, and test results were printed for the public to view.

From there, questions were brought up from the crowd about how the ballots were folded. Merchant was prepared to show that the way the ballots were folded had no effect on the outcome.

Due to the prior test run, Merchant did not clear the previous test tally. She ran the test again once it was cleared to ensure it was running smoothly.

The Elections team members tested the machine that is available for people with disabilities, and it operated correctly.

    Merchant adjourned the demonstration and took questions from the public.

    Cascade County Elections Office conducts test of voting machines
    Cascade County Elections Office conducts test of voting machines

    One gentleman, who did not identify himself, asked how Merchant and the Election team would handle thousands of folded ballots.

    She responded that the team would start a day in advance of Election Day and break the grain of the paper to ensure the ballots were to run flat through the ticker.

    Sandra Merchant (April 25, 2023)
    Sandra Merchant (April 25, 2023)

    Other concerns were expressed about precincts and whether the machine can take pictures of each ballot and if the machine is connected to WiFi.

    The machine is not connected to WiFi and it can be adjusted to precinct and to take photos of the ballots.

      MTN News asked about “Write-in” spaces that were left off the ballot.
      In MTN’s research, we called the Cascade County Elections Office where we were instructed on the phone if a person chose to write in a candidate, to cross out a name in the prescribed areas, fill in the bubble, and write in the candidate you wish to vote for.

      Merchant did not comment on if that’s what her office told MTN News.

      She did say, “They can write whatever they want on their ballots. They have that option, but it will invalidate it, it’s like an overvote.”

      Merchant has denied several requests for interviews from KRTV since she took office, but on Wednesday released the following information responding to questions and concerns from voters:

      To clarify the election issues, please read the following. If you still have questions you may go to the Cascade County Elections Office official website at www.cascadecountymt.gov or call the office between 8am to 5pm at 406-454-6803. Please leave a detailed message along with your name and phone number so we can look up the details and get back to you in a timely manner. Also, if you have an issue with your ballot or need to make changes to your registration, you will need to come to the Election’s Office located in the Courthouse Annex at 325 2nd Ave. N, Great Falls.

      GREAT FALLS SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION
      The Great Falls School Board Election is to be held at Expo Park as an in-person Poll Election on May 2, 2023, from 7am to 8pm. Voters may vote either in-person the day of the election or vote an absentee ballot if you have requested one through the Election Office. The last day to sign up for an absentee ballot is noon on the day before the election.

      ABSENTEE BALLOTS SENT OUT APRIL 17TH
      Absentee ballots were mailed out on Monday, April 17th in accordance with Montana law. To vote, simply mark your ballot by following the enclosed instructions. You may mail your ballot through USPS. It must be received by the Cascade County Elections Office by 5pm on election day in order to be counted. You may drop off your ballot either by bringing it into the Elections Office or inside Exhibition Hall at Expo Park the day of the election. Unattended drop boxes are not permitted by state law.

      BALLOTS THAT DO NOT FIT INTO THE PINK SECRECY ENVELOPES
      If your ballot does not fit into the pink secrecy envelope, simply refold it to fit into the envelope. All ballots returned by 5pm on May 2, 2023, either at the Election Office prior to election day or by 8pm at the Expo Park on election day will be counted.

      IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED A DUPLICATE BALLOT
      January 2023- Montana, through the Secretary of State, switched to a new election process for Montana elections. It is called ElectMT. As with any new process, there may be glitches. ElectMT provides the voter rolls to the Election Office and labels are printed from those rolls. If you have received a duplicate ballot, please bring it in to the Cascade County Elections Office so that we can work with the Secretary of State to make the correction. This cannot be handled over the phone. It is illegal to vote more than once in any election. Each absentee ballot has a return envelope with a unique elector scan bar code. It is scanned when the ballot is returned. No other ballots addressed to that elector can be processed. The barcode and the elector’s information are downloaded from ElectMT also.

      CONCERNS WITH VOLUNTEERS WORKING IN THE ELECTION OFFICE
      In addition to the new ElectMT process, the Election Office had to deal with a major issue of getting our ballots mailed. IPS was the County’s local mailing service that provided the postage permit and sorting of the ballot envelopes by zip code. IPS went out of business February 28, 2023. The Election office tried to replace IPS with a local provider who ultimately was unable to handle the size of the process. The decision was then made by Sandra Merchant, Election Administrator, to purchase the Election Office’s own permit. The sorting of ballots was done in house, which is a new process. To accomplish this, I selected volunteers who underwent background checks. Then Election Judges and County staff were utilized to stuff the envelopes with the ballots so that they went out on time.

      If you have any further questions, please contact the Cascade County Election’s Office directly. Also check out the Cascade County Election’s Office website which will be updated frequently. Our Election Office is proud to serve the residents of Cascade County.

      Questions or comments about this article/video? Click here to contact Ryan.



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