August 25, 2020
August 25, 2020
Commissioners Scott Blain and Bill Bullock; Administrative Officer Angela Newell; Commissioners’ Secretary Barbara Daniel; Election Administrator Macque Bohleen; County Attorney Alex Nixon; Scott Miller; Chris Mullaney; Scott Cain, Wade Miller; Gordon Sirrine; Dan Keylor; Ed Halland; and present via teleconference were Clerk and Recorder Christine Stovall, Deputy Clerk and Recorder Lola Ashby, Deputy Clerk and Recorder Crystal Roascio, and Carbon County News Reporter Eleanor Guerrero.
8:30 Pledge of Allegiance
9:00 Decision on How to Conduct the November 2020 General Election. Bohleen gave her recommendation as Election Administrator that due to COVID-19 the upcoming election be conducted as a mail-in ballot election (with an in-person voting option where a voter may hand-deliver their mail-in ballot to the Administration Building) as was done for the Federal Primary election earlier this year. She detailed her line-by-line analysis where the mail-in election costs less and results in a higher voter turnout than a poll election (the Federal Primary earlier this year saw 70% voter participation which was unprecedented). She feels it’s a non-partisan issue and that her opinion is for the betterment of the people, not for any particular political party, and that a mail-in ballot election is as safe as absentee ballot. In the event of a poll election, no tabulating would be conducted at polling places; it would all be done at the Administration Building due to a change in machines which replaced old machines. Only active, registered voters are mailed ballots; there are currently 450 inactive voters (who have not voted in the previous two Federal elections) in the County who can contact her office to re-activate themselves. She has had 125 people volunteer to be election judges, which is also unprecedented, but she is concerned about the logistics of trying to train all of them in one day on September 9th while maintaining social distancing; she would have to conduct three 4-hour sessions over the course of the day. She is also concerned about public unruliness in polling places and wants Sheriff Deputy support at each polling site for deterrence; Sheriff McQuillan has communicated to her that he is willing to provide whatever resources necessary (8 Deputies). She stated that there are currently 7,407 active voters and that 65% of them (4,657) are on the absentee list. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizing supplies must be procured and provided at polling places. In summary, with 65% of the voters already absentee, it makes sense to follow-through to all-mail ballot instead of running a poll election for the remaining 35%.
Keylor asked Bohleen if it’s cheaper to run an all-mail ballot, why is this only now becoming an option; Bohleen responded that it is State law that Federal elections are conducted by poll election. Because of the Governor’s COVID-19 Directive, the local jurisdictions may choose a poll election or a mail-in election for this General Federal election. Bohleen stated that currently of the 56 counties, 35 are conducting an all-mail ballot while 11 are conducting polls.
Bohleen was asked about the timing of mailed ballots and responded that ballots will be mailed out on Oct 9th and must be received by 8pm on November 3rd by mail or brought in to the Administration building. (She noted that in June’s Federal Primary election, 30% of the ballots were dropped off at the Administration Building, despite return-postage being pre-paid).
Ed Halland joined the meeting.
Keylor asked what kind of assurances Bohleen has received regarding the post office. Bohleen responded that she is confident in Carbon County’s postal system and is not concerned with postal fraud or high mail volume. She shared the Montana Secretary of State My Voter Page website where a voter can determine: if they are registered to vote, whether they are on the absentee ballot list, and the status of a mailed-in ballot (for example, when ballot is received and accepted, or whether it was undeliverable).
Mullaney, who is an election judge, expressed concerns about judges having to enforce masking, or being subjected to unmasked voters, and having to sanitize surfaces. Bohleen said judges and Sheriff’s Deputies will not be responsible for enforcement of masks and that PPE and sanitizing supplies will be provided.
Clerk and Recorder Christine Stovall requested a mail-in ballot election for this particular election due to Governor Bullock’s declaration of emergency during this election season and that a poll election should return in two years. She observed that citizens have stepped up to be election judges for this election, and asked that they please continue to volunteer in future elections. She requested Sheriff’s Deputies in all polling locations to maintain order, or in the Administration Building for a mail-in election. She reported that County schools offered their locations for polling, but if schools close, she wondered whether those spaces would still be made available. Another concern is staffing in her department as there are only two certified election administrators (herself and Macque Bohleen); she currently has each staff member working from home on off-set days to reduce the risk of departmental quarantine, but wonders how the County’s election could be certified in case of staff quarantine. Lastly, she was concerned that with the September 9th judges’ training, Bohleen will be exposed to 120 judges in one day.
Commissioner Bullock asked Bohleen to clarify for the group the differences between mail-in ballot versus an absentee ballot. Despite being for two different election types, Bohleen said votes are validated the exact same way and outlined the process.
Halland expressed concern that he has received ballots in the past for his daughter who lives out-of-country; Bohleen outlined the ballot validation process noting that signatures must be matched.
Bohleen was asked about the process for obtaining an absentee ballot; she said there is a form available in person at the Administration Building or it can be filled-out on-line; deadline is noon on November 2nd. She added that absentee ballots can be requested by mail up until 10-days before the election, but advised against such a tight timeline due to mail lag. Her biggest issue is that when a voter moves, they don’t update their address and ballots cannot be forwarded. In odd-numbered years, voter records are cross-checked against the national Change of Address registry.
S. Miller asked about validating that voters are US Citizens; Bohleen detailed the verification process.
Keylor asked Bohleen which method, poll vs. mail-in, she thought was safer. Bohleen stated that she feels the mail-in ballot is safer with fewer hands involved. She provided an example of the Forsythe postmaster who hand-delivered to Carbon County a ballot they received on election day.
S. Miller asked how much the cost savings of running a mail-in election plays into the decision-making. His main concern is that it is a fair election, regardless of cost, and that service members died for this right to vote.
Keylor asked about the process to verify signatures on mailed-in ballots; Bohleen detailed the process. For any discrepancies, her office will mail a letter if there is enough time, and if not, they will phone the voter. Commissioner Blain asked how often signatures need this extra verification step; Bohleen said 10-15% of ballots.
Bohleen was asked with 120 judges volunteering for this election, and only 65 needed, does she feel she has enough to account for attrition. She affirmed, but qualified it by stating that she needs her experienced chief judges to not drop out due to COVID-19 or fear of it.
Keylor posited that with so many people who have volunteered to be election judges, is it indicative that citizens want a poll election. Bohleen said that the request for judges was more publicized than in the past; the news media has focused on voter fraud; and that there is much misinformation and therefore more public concern. She feels the political parties are driving it; but it is not an issue of voter fraud.
Commissioner Blain commended Bohleen for her thorough work and for answering all the questions of the meeting.
Commissioner Bullock moved to approve conducting a poll election for the November 2020 General Election; Commissioner Blain seconded. Commissioner Bullock acknowledged that he has received much public opinion on the topic and that voting is deeply personal. Commissioner Blain acknowledged that the poll vs. mail ballot issue is deeply partisan, having received more public input on this issue than any other in his three years of service as Commissioner. He expressed that cost is irrelevant; the minimum number of judges required is easily met; on-site Sheriff’s Deputies will promote orderliness; sanitizing can be accomplished; Stillwater is conducting a poll election, therefore we can too. Commissioners promised to support the Clerk and Recorder’s office in every way. Bohleen encouraged everyone to make sure their addresses are up-to-date. Motion carried. Newell stated that County employees in other departments will be made available and trained to assist.
10:00 Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Program. Commissioner Bullock moved to approve the renewal; Commissioner Blain seconded; motion carried.
10:15 Meeting closed to discuss a personnel issue; 10:20 meeting re-opened.
10:20 Commissioner Bullock moved to approve extending the probation period for Justice Court Clerk Marissa Pihl to October 27th, 2020; Commissioner Blain seconded; motion carried.
10:45 Miller and Newell departed the meeting.
Commissioner Bullock reported on a recent conversation with Custer National Forest District Ranger Ken Coffin who shared that the Great American Outdoors Act recently passed legislation at the Federal level. Most of it will go to National Parks but also a sizable portion will made available to the Forest Service. Coffin is looking at improvements at Greenough Lake and Hellroaring Road.
11:30 Sirrine re-joined the meeting.
11:45 Commissioner Bullock moved to approve the Carbon County Historical Society State Historic Preservation Officer Agreement renewal; Commissioner Blain seconded; discussion about it being a necessary annual renewal; motion carried. Sirrine departed the meeting.
Discussion regarding Detention Center mail ballot timing.