County elections officials starting ballot counts

Updated 1:40 a.m. May 3

Cascade County election officials started counting ballots around 9 p.m. in the Great Falls Public School election.

According to the county attorney’s office, they could have started running ballots through the machine earlier in the day but not pulling the vote counts until polls closed at 8 p.m.

County elections staff didn’t start setting up the machine to count ballots until after 8 p.m.

Patrick Coley, a county elections employee, said that they had forgotten a key for the machine so were delayed starting the count.

Around 10:40 p.m., the vote tabulating machine appeared to have jammed and Merchant and other elections employees were still working on the machine.

At 12:50 a.m., Julie Bass, an election judge and volunteer, said they were closing up for the night.

They started packing up ballots to hold overnight and said they’d restart the count at 10 a.m. in the Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Area.

Coley said they had only run about 1,500 ballots through the machine by the time the machine started failing around 10:40 p.m.

Coley said they were discussing restarting the count since the machine had an error when a belt jammed and Merchant called ES&S technicians to fix the jam. He said they had it working again by the time they were packing up for the night.

Elections staff and election judges were still packing up ballots at 1:45 a.m.

Polls opened late for GFPS election due to confusion over voter registers

Coley said they had started processing ballots on May 1, as allowed by state law.

He said it was unlikely they’d have any results in the school board election tonight.

Chris Christiaens has served on the resolution board for elections for several years.

The resolution board looks at problematic ballots and said they had a number that had been folded incorrectly, or were cut, and wouldn’t go through the count machine so transferred those votes to fresh ballots.

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He said they also had some ballots that the precinct number had been cut off and he was unsure how county officials intended to handle those ballots.

At the end of the night, Christiaens said they had not opened all the ballots yet.

GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore was in Exhibition Hall to watch the process for awhile this evening, but said he was told they probably wouldn’t have results until midnight.

Sharla Merja with the Fort Shaw Irrigation District said their ballots hadn’t yet been counted as of 9 p.m.

Conley said he started in the elections office last week.

He said he was retired, but had heard the elections office needed help and didn’t want to see them fail, so offered to help.

Last week, the Great Falls Public Library board’s attorney sent a letter to Merchant requesting information.

She responded but didn’t include all the information, and the attorney, Raph Graybill, followed up asking for more information by noon May 1.

On April 28, Merchant sent the following to Graybill, according to library emails, “I received your letter regarding more information about the library mill levy election. I am very busy with the current election at this time, but will answer your request after the election is done.”

The polls opened late, according to multiple sources, because the county elections office had given the voter registers to GFPS.

Moore and Brian Patrick, GFPS business operations director, said they were never given those registers in the past nor were they given instructions on what they were or that they were needed back before polls could open, which was supposed to be at 7 a.m.

The registers have voter information and are where voters sign in during a poll election.

Moore and Patrick said they were called at 7:10 a.m. on May 2 about the registers. Patrick brought the registers to Exhibition Hall around 7:25 p.m.

Multiple sources told The Electric that elections staff had forgotten ballots at the office so they hadn’t opened polls until after 7:30 a.m.

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.

This story will be updated throughout the evening.

Photo by Matt Ehnes of Jared’s Detours