Election plan meeting today; library retains lawyer for election process; IPS owner offered help to county
Cascade County Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant is set to present her election plan to County Commissioners this afternoon.
So far, details about the plan have been scarce and multiple requests for information from the county have gone unanswered.
As of noon, no documents had been posted for the 2 p.m. meeting at the Family Living Center in Montana Expo Park.
On March 27,
County election plan presentation set for March 31
This week, Brian Patrick, business operations manager for Great Falls Public Schools, emailed Merchant asking for any updated information on the May 2 school board election so he could update the the school board during their meeting this evening.
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Merchant responded and wrote, “we are continuing to work on preparations for the upcoming school elections. Will you be designating the Expo Park or any other polling places for the May 2 school district elections?”
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Typically, since the county elections office handles GFPS elections, the county elections office coordinates polling places, election judges and other associated logistics.
Patrick said he wasn’t sure how to interpret Merchant’s question.
On March 30, Patrick requested a copy of the ballot instructions Merchant’s office was printing, but as of late morning March 31, had not received them.
During the Great Falls Public Library board meeting on March 28, the board voted to retain legal counsel for legal assistance to help navigate the election process for the library levy election on June 6.
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The board retained Raph Graybill, who offered his services pro bono, so there’s no cost to the library or taxpayers.
Susie McIntyre, library director, said the board isn’t planning any lawsuits but Graybill will support and assist the board in working with the county elections office to ensure a fair and reliable election.
Graybill is the son of Jessica Crist, a library board member, but McIntyre said she abstained from the discussion and vote on the matter.
Denise Riggin, owner of Innovative Postal Services, told The Electric on March 31 that she was frustrated with those trying to blame her company for the current election system since she gave Cascade County the same notice as all of their customers and others were able to find solutions.
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IPS notified the county in mid-January about the company closure due to the owners’ retirement and met with commissioners and Merchant on Feb. 3.
Riggin said she hadn’t heard from Merchant since that meeting, despite offering to help with the first few elections and her company was closing.
Riggin said she told Merchant the county could continue using IPS’ postage permit number, which is valid through August. Multiple sources inside the county told The Electric that Merchant had said the post office told them they couldn’t use that number and were getting their own.
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Riggin said she didn’t believe the post office wouldn’t let the county use IPS’ valid permit.
The Electric was told that Advanced Litho picked up 40,000 ballot envelopes to print over the IPS number with a new number.
The Electric asked Merchant and county officials whether they had secured a new permit number and whether Advanced Litho was printing a new number on the envelopes.
The Electric has not yet received a response.
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Riggin said that even if the county needed a new permit number on the envelopes, she didn’t understand why the county wouldn’t use it’s own print shop to address it since they have the capability.
Riggin said that Merchant called her shortly after taking office asking what services IPS provided the county and at what cost.
Riggin said she suggested looking at an IPS invoice to get the details and said that Merchant told her she couldn’t find one.
“At that point it was like you want me to do your work for you,” Riggin said.
IPS closing; county considering options for election mailing
The Electric requested a copy of the county’s contract with IPS on Feb. 3 and followed up on Feb. 10 and has not yet received a response from the Clerk and Recorders office.
Riggin said that Merchant called Advanced Litho to ask what services they could provide, but the owners couldn’t figure out what she was asking so they met with Riggin to find out what services IPS had provided.
Riggin said they were under the impression Merchant was asking them to do everything involved with elections mailing so she said she walked them through the entire process.
She said the Advanced Litho owner told her they weren’t willing to take on that liability and Riggin said she believes that’s why the county elections office always handled inserting ballots in envelopes themselves.
Riggin said Commissioner Rae Grulkowski reached out to ask about getting a postage meter and that she provided information because she didn’t want vendors to try to oversell the county.
During the Feb. 3 meeting, Riggin said she would sell IPS’ sorting machine for $250,000, but told The Electric she had offered it to the county for free.
She said she never received a response and now it’s sitting in a salvage yard, “which is a crying shame.”
The machine needed $63,000 worth of upgrades by the end of the year to remain compliant with U.S. Postal Service requirements, Riggin said, but the county would have got about nine months of use out of it to get through some elections and have time to find another solution.