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Cascade County election official says cops called after skeptics escalate

by Nicole Girten Daily Montanan
| November 18, 2022 7:00 AM

Law enforcement was called Friday after a group of election integrity skeptics in Cascade County escalated tactics, circling the county office and waiting for election officials and staff to come outside, according to County Clerk and Recorder Rina Moore.

The last year already had been an “absolute nightmare” for Moore and her elections staff because the skeptics called for the hand counting of paper ballots, among other unrealistic demands, Moore said.

Moore said Friday, the group waited for Moore and her staff, along with election observers from both parties, in the parking lot after they had been working to prepare provisional ballots to be counted Monday along with military ballots and ballots that may need to have signature issues resolved if they don’t match or a voter forgot to sign.

The doors were locked as it was a holiday, and Moore said they didn’t want them unlocked with no one else in the building. But she said people called her staff and said they thought it was strange employees were in the office on Friday and “we just want to make sure you’re not fixing this election for Rina.”

Moore was up for re-election as Clerk and Recorder and is behind her opponent, Sandra Merchant, by 20 votes, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Merchant did not respond to an interview request this week about her race. Saturday, she did not immediately respond to a voicemail or text message about whether she was aware of the group circling the building or had worked with any of them.

Moore said the group took videos and photos of staff along with their car license plate numbers and that the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office was called.

“They’re horrible people,” Moore said. “They circled our building. We just kept seeing a white car going up and down, you know, by the alley over and over again. There was a guy out there in camouflage.”

Since-debunked conspiracies around election integrity took off around the U.S. after former President Donald Trump denied election results in 2020.

In Montana, a work group made up of representatives from organizations and stakeholders across the state, including legislators from both parties, found Montana’s election system to be safe and secure. The group also created a website with the information from the FAQ at https://votinginmontana.org/.

Moore said the Sheriff’s Office told her and her staff to keep their heads down and not engage the group, and to call law enforcement immediately if they need help. Staff are afraid, she said, in some cases fearing the activity will escalate to physical violence.

Moore said after four complaints were made to the County Attorney’s Office regarding the election, the Sheriff’s Office was called on Wednesday to escort the van carrying ballots from the Exhibition Hall at Montana ExpoPark, where ballots were cast, across town to her office. She said it was a first for unopened ballots in the 16 years she’s been doing the job.

The Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond for comment.

“They have no idea what the process is, they don’t want to ask, they just want to accuse,” Moore said. “These people are absolutely insane.”

Moore said when the last ballots are counted Monday, attorneys, all three county commissioners and at least two deputies from the Sheriff’s Office will be in attendance.