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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Citizens group files ethics complaint over Cascade County elections

A citizen committee in Cascade County filed a complaint with the state’s top political watchdog alleging ethics violations in the county’s election’s office.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus’ office confirmed it received an electronic version of the complaint Monday.

In the complaint, the Cascade Election Protection Committee says Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant this week purposefully obstructed the view of election observers and threatened police force against those taking photos of the office.

The committee also says the office didn’t vet its volunteers, 13 of whom it says signed a 2022 petition asking the county to ban electronic vote-counting machines and purge its voter rolls.

Committee member Pete Fontana says the group is preparing to take further action beyond the complaint.

“We started with the commissioner because that’s who the Secretary of State’s office told us to do, and the next thing we’re going to do is ask the county attorney to look into it,” Fontana said.

The election committee formed in early April after Cascade Election Administrator Sandra Merchant cast doubt on the ability of her office to hold upcoming special elections, citing lack of staff and the closure of a local mail-sorting business.

Separately, the Great Falls Public Library is threatening legal action if Merchant does not give them a detailed plan for its June 6 mill levy.

The Cascade elections website contained no information about the June 6 election at the time of publication.

KRTV first reported that some Cascade county residents have received multiple absentee ballots in the mail for the May 2 school board election.

Merchant has not responded to requests for comment and information from multiple media organizations, including MTPR.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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