Montana

Ballot Issues Plague Cascade County Montana School Election

Policy
A street in the town of Vaughn (photo courtesy of montanapictures.net)

In another black-eye for Montana’s complicated mail-in ballot system, Cascade County school officials apparently did not realize that the small community of Vaughn had a school levy election on May 6 and ballots were not mailed out to voters until Thursday of last week.

In a telephone interview with Media Trackers, Cascade County Clerk and Recorder Rina Moore confirmed the error, saying that the County Superintendent of Schools office mistakenly told county elections officials that, because there was no trustee election in Vaughn, there was no need to send out ballots to voters in the community.

“We [the county elections department] were told that there was no trustee election in Vaughn and so we didn’t need to mail out ballots,” Moore said.

Vaughn is a community of about 600 that lies 16 miles west of Great Falls.

Per state law ballots must be mailed out at least 20 days before a school election, meaning that ballots should have been mailed to Vaughn residents by mid-April. However, officials apparently did not realize their oversight until a citizen called the county elections office on to ask why they had not received a ballot. The ballots were mailed on Thursday May 1, just 5 days before the election.

Media Trackers also received reports from Vaughn that the belated ballots “did not look official.” When asked about this, Moore stated that this was likely because individual school districts are in charge of their own ballots, so the ballots do not always look like general election ballots that are printed and maintained by county election offices.

According to state law, each school district is in charge of carrying out its own elections. However, school districts may request — and often do — that the county administrator run the election. This can create complications when a single county elections office is running separate elections for multiple school districts.

Moore said that the problem in Vaughn and the general complications of running school elections would likely cause the Cascade County Elections Office to rethink agreeing to handle the elections of outlying school districts in the future.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to do the outlying schools anymore,” she said.

Despite the error by county officials and the fact that the ballots were mailed just 5 days prior to the election, Vaughn residents were still required to have ballots returned by 8PM yesterday. According to Moore, because of the problems, the ballots will be hand counted.

Correction 5/7/2014 at 12:23 PM: An earlier version mistakenly stated that Vaughn was part of Great Falls High School District.

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