Great Falls school trustees ask county officials to take over election duties
Great Falls Public Schools’ trustees are asking Cascade County commissioners to take over election duties from the clerk and recorder’s office.
The Daily Montanan first reported that school trustees sent a letter to county commissioners in early September. They laid out concerns with clerk and recorder Sandra Merchant’s handling of the Great Falls school election in May.
The letter says Merchant’s office stonewalled the district as it submitted repeated requests for information about the election. Trustees also wrote that the election was “marred with significant problems,” including a delayed poll opening and an alleged failure to send absentee ballots to all eligible voters.
Gordon Johnson chairs the Great Falls Public Schools' Board of Trustees and told MTPR the election office’s cooperation with the district deteriorated after Merchant took over.
“Our administrative office spent untold hours just trying to get answers to questions — basic answers to questions,” Johnson said in a phone interview.
In a response letter dated earlier this week, Cascade County commissioners said a decision to transfer election duties from Merchant to their office would take a “thorough evaluation.”
Commission chairperson Rae Grulkowski said the trustees’ request came as a surprise to her. Grulkowski encouraged Merchant to run for the clerk and recorder position and has consistently backed her as the office has struggled to hold elections free of errors.
“I don’t have concerns,” Grulkowski told MTPR. “I’ve been informed along the way. Everything was handled appropriately that came along.”
In a lengthy emailed statement, Merchant said her office had communicated with the trustees prior to the election, a claim school board chair Johnson refutes.
She added that she believes transferring election duties to the county commissioners would not be “necessary or positive in any light.”