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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Judge appoints election monitor for Great Falls library levy

A Cascade County judge has appointed a monitor for an upcoming local election. The judge agreed the county election office needs more oversight after allegations of recent errors.

Judge Brenda Gilbert chose Great Falls Public Library’s suggestion of former elections supervisor Lynn DeRoche to monitor the upcoming levy. DeRoche served in the position for 16 years and left shortly after current clerk and recorder Sandra Merchant took office.

Minutes from a hearing Thursday indicate a lawyer for Merchant pushed back against DeRoche’s appointment, citing a personal and professional history between the two.

In a phone interview, DeRoche said she’ll put that past aside in her role as monitor.

“I’m just going in there to be professional and, you know, to make sure that every ballot has been processed properly and accounted for,” DeRoche said.

The library asked the court to appoint a monitor after it alleged Merchant’s office disenfranchised voters and mishandled absentee ballots in a school board election in early May.

The library’s attorney, Raph Graybill, told MTPR the monitor is needed to protect the library from similar irregularities occurring in its election.

“Nowhere, at any point, has the county disagreed with the allegations that there were serious, serious irregularities in the school district election,” Graybill said. “There was an opportunity to do that at yesterday’s hearing, and they didn’t.”

Separately, an attorney representing two property owners in Cascade County asked in a letter to county commissioners that they not certify results from the May 2 irrigation district election. The letter cites irregularities including that some absentee ballots were not mailed on time and were sent to voters without return or secrecy envelopes.

Merchant did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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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