GREAT FALLS — On May 26, 2023,a lawsuit was filed by Steve T. Potts for Plaintiffs Elliot Merja, Riley Denning, Timothy A. Miller, and Laurie L. Miller.
The suit is calling on defendants, Cascade County, Fort Shaw Irrigation District, West Great Falls Flood District, and Sandra Merchant, in her official capacity as Cascade County Clerk and Recorder.
According to the First Claim for Relief, in elections of irrigation districts such as the Fort Shaw Irrigation District, electors must hold title or evidence of title to irrigable lands within certain tracts specified in Montana Code Annotated.
Merja and Denning are owners of land located within the Fort Shaw Irrigation District and were candidates in an election of commissioners held on May 2, 2023.
The plaintiffs allege that the defendants incorrectly instructed electors and did not send ballots to all electors allowing all electors to cast votes for all irrigable land or major fractions of acres owned by the electors.
Another allegation towards the Fort Shaw Irrigation District is said to have refused acceptance of valid change documents regarding qualified electors or designated agents at least 14 days prior to the election. Failing to notify the elections office within four days of receiving the documents. By failing to provide that information to the election’s office, it could not administer the proper ballots.
The suit also alleges that Sandra Merchant violated Cascade County provisions by mailing ballots to electors on April 20 and 21, 2023.
With that claim towards the Cascade County Clerk and Recorder, the suit also claims Merchant violated provisions of not providing electors with signature envelopes, secrecy envelopes, and a form that is the same as the form for absentee ballot signature envelopes (prescribed by the secretary of state for proper verification).
The plaintiffs allege that because of the listed allegations it “probably” affected the election outcome.
They are asking the election to be held void and a special election should be held at least 85 days after that finding from the court.
In the West Great Falls Flood and Drainage Control District matters, electors must hold title or evidence of title to irrigable lands within certain tracts under the Montana code.
Timothy and Laurie Miller, plaintiffs are owners in the district and allege Laurie was not sent a ballot for voting in the election and instead sent a ballot for a tract of land for which she had not been designated as the elector.
The suit also claims, prior to the election, defendants Cascade County and Sandra Merchant prepared and sent a form entitled “Notice of Designation of Special District Agent.”
Stating, “If you are a resident of the district…you do not need to complete this form and may vote…” Residents who were not owners or designated by owners subsequently received ballots and voted.
Because of the issues listed above, the plaintiffs claim that this “probably” affected the election outcome.
The plaintiffs are requesting the court to void the May 2, 2023, election and hold a special election.
On May 18, 2023, Steven Potts on behalf of the plaintiffs issued a letter to the Cascade County Commissioners asking them to address the concerns. Nine days later, a lawsuit has been filed.
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