PRESS RELEASE ON BEHALF OF THE FLATHEAD JOINT BOARD OF CONTROL OF THE MISSION, JOCKO AND FLATHEAD IRRIGATION DISTRICTS
During the recent 2016 District Office Elections administered by Lake County Elections Administrator, Kathie Newgard, as guided by the Lake County Attorneys’ Office, the Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC) learned of and verified multiple violations of Montana Election Laws. In prior elections conducted by Lake County Officials, the Elections Administrator determined that corporate entities with out of State addresses were ineligible to vote in District elections and were not recognized registered voters. The FJBC disagreed with Lake County’s interpretation of the law as it prevents fee-land owners serviced by the Flathead Irrigation Project from participating in District Elections.
2015 county communications mentioned in Lake County Attorney, Steve Echenbacher’s multiple public statements, allegedly directed to FJBC Commissioners and/or staff, were meant solely to open discussions that unfortunately never occurred during or after the 2015 Special District Election.
In 2016, Lake County Officials again undertook a review of the Montana statutes related to the current election cycle and determined, in an effort to ensure ballot accuracy and accountability, that all irrigated fee-land parcels held by entity or multi-party ownership must first designate a voting member before being provided with an actual ballot. This new interpretation differed from years past. Despite the change in interpretation, the County failed to provide electors notice of this new requirement and failed to advise electors that they would not be mailed a ballot unless and until the designation was executed and returned to the Lake County Elections Administrator. Nor, did Lake County timely notify the FJBC of any responsibility of the FJBC to require designations be returned prior to providing an elector an actual ballot. The Montana statute at issue, however, does not allow the withholding of ballots under the new unilaterally imposed statutory interpretation. In fact, Montana law requires that all district election mail-in ballots be mailed on the same day between the 20th and 15th day before election day.
FJBC staff was not notified of this significant change of administration and process for the District Election until late February, 2016. Thereafter, the FJBC sent multiple requests for supporting documentation as well as requesting to meet with Lake County officials to discuss how to proceed with the election process. All requests went ignored.
In late March of 2016, the Lake County Elections Administrator finally provided the approved form affidavits to the FJBC. At no time was the FJBC notified that executed, notarized and filed designations were mandatory before an elector would receive a ballot prior to the actual Special District Election that was already in progress. Since that time the FJBC has learned that nearly 800 ballots had been withheld from electors because completed voter designation forms had not been executed, notarized and returned to the Lake County Elections office.
In a cooperative effort, FJBC legal counsel at the direction of the FJBC, consulted with Civil Lake County Attorney Wally Congdon regarding the FJBC’s legal options given the existing legal violations committed by Lake County. Montana law authorizes the cancellation of an election by a governing body, in this case the FJBC, for any reason specified in law. At the conclusion of their discussion, counsel mutually agreed that the best course of action was to cancel the election and reschedule a new election at the earliest possible date. On April 21, 2016, the FJBC in a 9-2 vote supported such action and instructed legal counsel to notify Lake County Officials of the District election cancellation. Timely notification of the cancellation was provided to the Lake County Administrator on April 22, 2016. Thereafter, Lake County Attorney, Steve Eschenbacher determined that Lake County would ignore/dismiss the FJBC’s majority decision and allowed the FJBC Special District Election to move forward as originally scheduled.
On May 2, 2016, by a 10-1 vote, The FJBC passed Resolution 2016-1 resolving that the FJBC and the separate Irrigation Districts would not honor the 2016 corrupted election results due to incurable legal violations and further resolved to maintain the status quo of the FJBC’s acting Board of Commissioners until such time as a legal election can be held. The FJBC remains committed to serving its constituents and representing the legal rights of those it serves.
As of May 3, 2016, (Special District Election Day) 20% of Mission Irrigation District (103 Ballots) and 17% of Flathead Irrigation District (Lake and Sanders County – 508 Ballots) ballots had not yet been mailed to electors nor voted. It is still the intention of the Flathead Joint Board of Control on behalf of the separate Irrigation Districts to reschedule a fair and legal Special District Election at the earliest possible date allowing all irrigated fee-land owners equal participation in government.
For more information check out their website at this link:
or contact their office at 406-745-2090.
Note: we will post a copy of the resolution passed at the Joint Board Special Meeting held on Monday 05/02/2016 as soon as it is made available.