GFPS discusses election details

Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore and other district officials held a press conference on April 20 to discuss details of their school board election.

Ballots have been mailed, but there are reports of people receiving multiple ballots, unsealed ballots and ballots that don’t fit into the return envelopes without being refolded.

Moore said he invited county officials to attend the meeting or provide information to voter questions.

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Moore read from an email Sandra Merchant, county clerk and recorder, sent him earlier in the day.

In her email, she wrote that she was aware of duplicate ballots and had been in contact with the Montana Secretary of State’s office to find out what the problem is.

Merchant told Moore that “the system will not allow anyone to vote twice.”

She told him the system will record the first ballot and void any subsequent ballot.

The Electric asked the SOS’s office whether it was responsible for the voter lists.

Richie Melby, communications director for SOS, said, “our office reviewed the ballot label file that was generated by the system and sent to Cascade County elections. According to the review, there were no duplicates found in that file.”

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Merchant also told Moore that due to a “medical event,” she canceled the election judge training that was scheduled for April 26 and 28.

Merchant told Moore that the training would be rescheduled for later this year.

The county elections website has not been updated with that information as of 4 p.m. April 20.

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Moore said that voters can drop off their ballots at the election office through May 1 and the election office moves to Exhibition Hall at Montana Expo Park on May 2.

The elections office said that the drop box on the exterior of the county office building isn’t available since it’s only for mail ballot elections.

The exterior ballot drop box at the county office was locked as of April 20.

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Moore said that if citizens have questions about their ballots, they should contact the elections office at 406-454-6803 or call GFPS and officials would try to get them answers.

There are three positions on the May ballot for three-year terms.

The incumbents, Bill Bronson, Kim Skornogoski and Amie Thompson all filed for reelection.

Rodney Meyers and Tony Rosales are also running for those seats.

The ballot does not include space for write-in candidates.

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The instructions sent with the ballots include instructions for using the write-in line and oval, but none exist on the ballot.

Merchant said by phone that a voter could write in a candidate on their ballots but that would invalidate a ballot.

She said by phone that there were no one filed as a write-in so it wouldn’t matter anyway.

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Nicole Thoutte, the school election expert at the Montana Office of Public Instruction, said that that instructions on the Montana Secretary of State’s website make “it very clear that they should have a number of write-in lines to the number to be voted for.”

State law regarding the format of a school trustee ballot does not specify write-in spaces.

Several voters asked The Electric if the names of candidates were supposed to be rotated, which is typically the case of municipal, state and federal elections, but state law states that for a school trustee election, they don’t need to be rotated, according to Thoutte. That same section of state law states, “ballots for absentee voting must be printed and available at least 20 days before the election,” which was April 12.

Brian Patrick, GFPS business operations manager, said that Merchant provided them with an estimate of costs on April 10 and has not provided any updates since.

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Her estimate was $41,821.02 and did not include the cost for printing ballots.

According to county documents, the county print shop has charged the elections office for several expenses related to the May 2 GFPS election.

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Those charges were:

  • election envelopes and instructions on March 7 for about $15,000
  • instructions reprinted on March 30 for $4,692
  • 48,005 ballots printed on April 10 for $19,202

Merchant’s cost estimate provided to GFPS

April 10 for envelopes and instructions was $14,508.

Merchant’s estimated included costs for 31,000 ballots.