Ballots delivered to USPS on April 17; county staff, volunteers spent week stuffing envelopes

Updated 11 a.m. April 18

Citizen observers were in the Cascade County elections office until 5 p.m. April 17 watching the process.

According to several sources, the members of the public were asked to leave after 5 p.m. since the offices were closing, though volunteers and county staff were still in the office preparing ballots for the May 2 election.

Jane Weber, a former county commissioner and member of a newly formed election protection committee, said that county officials told the observers they had to leave.

In an text exchange between Pete Fontana of the election protection committee and County Attorney Josh Racki provided to The Electric, Racki told Fontana that members of the public have to leave the election office when it closed unless Sandra Merchant, county clerk and recorder, allowed them to stay.

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Weber said they were watching in the parking lot of the county annex building observing the process and that as of 5:30 p.m. ballots were not loaded into the county van for transport to the U.S. Postal Service facility for sorting and mailing.

Around 6 p.m., county employees and volunteers had started loading ballots into the county van for transport, according to multiple sources.

County elections officials said publicly and on their website that absentee ballots would be mailed April 17.

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Cascade County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled up to the building while observers were being asked to leave county offices around 5 p.m.. but Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said they were there to see the IT department to have the computers fixed in their patrol cars, unrelated to the activities in the elections office.

Slaughter said that he talked to county elections officials and Pete Fontana, who was also observing in the election office, and that there was no criminal activity and it was “just people exercising their constitutional rights.”

Merchant, county commissioners and the county attorney’s office did not respond to an April 17 email regarding details on the election and ballots and specifically whether they’d been delivered to the post office.

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Shannon Wilson, who served as a trained election judge for the Democratic party last year, said that she volunteered in the elections office April 12-14.

Wilson told The Electric that while she was helping, volunteers weren’t handling ballots until Friday.

She said that around 10:30 a.m. April 14, Merchant found out that election judges could handle ballots.

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Wilson said that up until that point, only county employees had been handling ballots that she observed.

Wilson said on Friday, four trained election judges including herself were stuffing ballots at a separate table.

She didn’t work over the weekend, but heard from a fellow volunteer that about seven people worked about 10 hours both days over the weekend to finish stuffing envelopes. It was unclear who those people were and whether they were trained election staff or election judges.

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Wilson said that up until Friday morning when Merchant allowed election judges to handle ballots they were “really behind.”

Wilson said that the volunteers, who were largely those who had signed a petition last year asking the county to eliminate ballots, had been welcoming to her and friendly, but were passing out ‘no library levy’ stickers in the elections office.

Cars have been seen in the county annex parking lot with the ‘no library levy’ sticker on them over the last week.

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Wilson said she said she supports the library and had some conversations with other volunteers about their opposition, which was mostly related to taxes, she said.

Wilson said that from her perspective, they’ve seemed to welcome in whoever wanted to volunteer.

Wilson said the volunteers weren’t sealing the envelopes last week.

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Wilson said she was a trained election judge and was happy to help stuffing the ballots last week, but she hasn’t yet been contacted by Merchant’s office about serving as an election judge at the polls on May 2.

Last week, several county employees were pulled into the elections office to help stuff ballots.

Carey Ann Haight, deputy county attorney, told The Electric that the county attorney’s office provided two staff to assist the county elections office last week.

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Charity Yonker, county planning director, said that two planners and the department’s administrative assistant helped stuff ballots on Friday afternoon after catching up on work in their office.

She said the department remained open and operating as required, but that Friday afternoons are typically slow and employees typically take off as early as they are able.

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Yonker told The Electric that after her last meeting of the day and checking on the office, she helped for about 1.5 hours on April 14 in the elections office.

“As far as the best possible time for us to assist any other department/office in the County, it is on a Friday afternoon before we get busy for the summer construction time,” she said.

She said her department helping elections didn’t impact the planning board meetings since the April 18 meeting would have been canceled since there are no action items but the bylaws require a mandatory monthly meeting.

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Draft minutes and an agenda were sent to the planning board and posted on the county website by the department’s administrative assistant before anyone in the planning department went to assist the elections office, Yonker said.

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“Of course any time employees are allocate elsewhere when they would otherwise be working on department specific work, there is an impact to the department. It is not the first time county personnel have been called to assist the Election’s Office. In addition to this call for assistance by election, we were called to assist with the recount for the last election too,” Yonker said. “I am sure this is not the first, and definitely won’t be the last county employees are asked to assist in county-related matters that are outside their specific department/office.”