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Library hosts emergency meeting; Merchant addresses election concerns

GFPL Emergency Meeting.JPG
Sandra Merchant
Posted at 9:12 AM, May 08, 2023

GREAT FALLS — On Friday, the Great Falls Public Library conducted what it called an emergency meeting for its Board of Trustees. The meeting’s main topic of discussion was in response to the handling of the GFPS Board of Trustees election and “valid” concerns brought to light about the last election.

A motion was made to authorize the library director to implement a legal strategy in the next election.

"What this motion does is delegates the authority of whether or not to move forward with any legal action to me in consultation with the library board chair,” said Susie McIntyre, Library Director.

Susie McIntyre

Raph Graybill is providing pro-bono legal services for the Great Falls Public Library, conducting an outside investigation on the concerns brought forth by the library. If those concerns are investigated and deemed to be accurate, the library can seek legal action, not specifically serving the county, but for the County Courts to oversee Merchant’s administration of the election process.

“Because time is getting down to the wire and we still have not received several responses from the election’s office, we haven't seen the ballot and received many credible complaints. We, the library board, do not have the ability to investigate those complaints or to see how that impacts the legality. So that is what the outside counsel is helping us with.” McIntyre went on to add, “The library is not looking to sue the county.”

Ballots for the Library Mill Levy must be mailed out by May 17 and the library wants to ensure this is a fair election for the public.

“We want to make sure that the election happens as it should, that the voters get to have their say, and that there's no risk of the election being declared invalid.”

During the meeting, another discussion came from McIntyre about adding a levy in the 2024 election that would not only the Great Falls Library but the libraries in Belt and Cascade.
McIntyre noted that the June 6 Library Mill Levy vote, if voted in, will increase taxes in the next fiscal year and the vote must take place in June.

Cascade County Commissioner Rae Grulkowski asked questions regarding the legal action of the library and if the library administration has approached the county commission and the county attorney, she stated that the county is unaware of illegal activity at the May 2nd polling election.

Rae Grulkowski

Susie McIntyre went on to explain a few concerns that were brought to the library Board of Trustees, including concerns about the Fort Shaw Irrigation District ballots being invalidated, turning away voters on election day, and the way the Elections Office handled signature verification.

Grulkowski admired McIntyre for taking control over the inconsistencies that she says have happened in the past and remain with the present administration.

Jessica Crist, a Great Falls Public Library Board member, told the panel, “We don’t have confidence there will be no glitches… That’s what we’re trying to ensure doesn’t happen.”

From Q&A came public comment, where members of the community voiced their concerns from distrust of the elections to commending the hard work of the Elections Office.

Richard Irving said, “In an election, legal is a very important thing… Fair is a mush word, it has absolutely nothing to do with elections. Stay aware of fairness. Because it’s nonsense…”

Jane Weber, an outspoken member of the Election Protection Committee brought up several concerns regarding the handling of the GFPS Board of Trustee Election, including concern over community members who requested their ballot be mailed out of state and it didn’t arrive.

Jane Weber

Weber also claims the denial of receiving public records of other elections in the county. She also made the library board aware of Anti-Library Mill Levy decals that are claimed to have been distributed to volunteer members inside the Elections Office during the school election.

Weber said, “They were distributed to volunteers who were actually stuffing ballots, many of them were in this room. Many of the people who worked, were many of the people who signed a 2022 petition to the county commissioners that said they don't believe in mail ballots, which I find is very unusual to have those people working on mail ballots when they don't believe in the process.”

Beth Cummings, another concerned citizen, spoke on behalf of the Merchant campaign.

“I watched overcoming, time and time again. Those people worked tirelessly until the wee hours of the morning to make sure that count was there… I don’t think anyone is questioning the count. I don’t think anyone is up in arms about the outcome of it… Do I think communication needs to happen, yes. I think it needs to happen for not only your benefit but for the benefit of all voters… We need to worry about our county.”

Finally, Julie Bass, an Election Judge from the May 2 election, spoke on behalf of the Elections Office.

Julie Bass

“I do disagree with the idea that you're saying that our election office isn't trustworthy and that you're telling a voter protection group to go to them. That's people's personal information that you're suggesting. Those who are public, are just a committee of people who are against something. That’s not okay.”

The final public comment came from Cascade County Clerk & Recorder Sandra Merchant, who acknowledged the inconsistencies in the past election.

She told the public that she plans to update her processes to ensure a more efficient election.

“When I come into my office, politics goes out the door. I am not there to be a politician and to decide the elections on my own. I follow the law.” Merchant said.

Merchant also addressed the glitches in the Elect Montana System and said her office is working closely with the Secretary of State to monitor and fix those issues. She also told the public that in the case of duplicate ballots, that she reports each one to the Secretary of State to get the issue fixed.

Sandra Merchant addresses meeting

“We're going to do the very best that we can for the library election to make sure everything is going. We're already working on it, and have been before this election even happened on May 2nd. We've been working on the library election as well to make sure that things are going to be done on time and properly,” Merchant added.

The Library Board of Trustees voted in favor of the motion to appoint power to the Library Director.

This is the first public appearance for Cascade County Clerk since the tabulation test on April 5, 2023.

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