Cascade County updating voter rolls; elections staff attends Chico conference

The Cascade County Elections Office is undergoing the National Voter Registration Act process.

Cascade County Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant said at the end of July that they had begun the process of sending letters to local voters to confirm their registration.

In an email, Merchant said that the 1993 NVRA “lets voters confirm if they have moved, asks them to update their registration, and tasks the election administrators with removing people who do not respond to confirmation mailings and subsequently fail to vote in two federal general elections. Elections officials within the United States are annually tasked with the responsibility of sending notice to voters who fit these criteria.”

She said the county voter rolls identified 11,884 currently registered voters who fit those criteria.

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Merchant said they have sent the first NVRA notice and if no response is received within 30 days, a second notice will be mailed. If no notice is received within 30 days of the second notice, the voter will be inactivated, according to Merchant.

In her media release, Merchant wrote, “with a large multi-year NVRA backlog in our records from prior years we will be contacting a high volume of voters and deeply appreciate your cooperation so we may process these as efficiently as possible to be sure our voter registration list is up to date.”

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In a response to The Electric regarding the large number of voters being contacted through NVRA, Merchant said “from what we have been seeing in the SOS ElectMT system, there are very few NVRA notices that have been sent. Some voters have records going back to 2016 and missed voting in previous federal general elections but there is no record of a notice being sent. It looks like this process, required by law, has not been done or at least not been done completely for many years.”

The process was performed in all of those years as required by law and previous Cascade County elections staff submitted the associated reports to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office.

The Electric requested, and received, all of those reports..

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The SOS waived it’s right to assess a fee and provided the records on Aug. 11 at no cost.

According to former elections officials and the state records, Cascade County elections staff had previously started the NVRA process in January or February in the required years. The records show the completion date as April for the 2021 process and August for the 2022 process.

In 2017, the year following the federal election in 2016, the Cascade County elections office sent 3,038 initial NVRA notices and received 472 responses of voter confirmation. Of that batch, 60 voters were unregistered at voter’s request, as well as being removed due to death; 572 notices were returned undeliverable and 1,934 were never returned, according to the state records.

That year, the elections office sent 2,867 second notices were issues. Of those, 368 voters confirmed their registrations; 33 were canceled at voter request or by death; 240 were returned undeliverable and 2,226 were never returned.

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In 2019, Cascade County elections staff issued 4,588 initial NVRA notices. Of those, 375 voters confirmed their registration; 122 were canceled at voter request or due to death; 1,236 were returned undeliverable and 2,855 were never returned.

That year, elections staff sent 4,091 second notices. Of those, 118 voters confirmed their registration; 86 were canceled at voter request or due to death; 856 were returned undeliverable and 3,031 were never returned.

In 2021, county elections staff issued 3,679 initial notices. Of those 316 voters confirmed; 160 were canceled at voter request or due to death; 510 were returned undeliverable and 3,363 were never returned.

That year, 3,305 second notices were issued. Of those, 180 were confirmed; 82 were canceled; and 566 were were undeliverable.

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In 2022, county elections staff issued 3,528 initial notices. Of those, 532 voters confirmed; 257 were canceled; 280 were undeliverable and 2,459 were never returned.

That year, 2,175 second notices were issued. Of those, 219 voters confirmed; 85 were canceled; 332 were undeliverable and 1,539 never responded.

Previous elections staff said that in some cases voters who received notices came to the office and spoke to elections staff who updated their voter registration records without needing a form to be returned.

Voters who received a NVRA notice should follow the instructions on the form and return it to the county elections office at P.O. Box 2305, Great Galls, MT, 59403.

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In her July release about NVRA, Merchant also said the elections office would be closed Aug. 7-10 for “essential training.”

Merchant and her staff were attending the Montana Clerk and Recorder Convention at Chico Hot Springs.

The Electric requested, and received, the cost breakdown for staff attending the conference with Merchant.

All the attending staff were from the elections office.

Multiple sources told The Electric that the conference included about three hours of elections training, that isn’t conducted by the state.

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Staff from the clerk and recorder side of Merchant’s office did not attend the conference, according to the cost breakdown provided by the Cascade County Attorney’s Office.

The cost for Merchant to attend the conference was $1,090.10, according to the breakdown.

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The total cost for elections staff, including Merchant, to attend the conference was $3,649.61, according to county records.

Commissioner Joe Briggs told The Electric that, “there was no meeting or discussion with the commission regarding the election’s staff going to the conference. Elected officials have control over their staff’s in state travel so our approval was not required.”