©2016 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
Note: Official FJBC Notice about the elections can be found at the bottom of this post.
In an interesting turn of events, yesterday afternoon the Flathead Joint Board of Control voted 9-2 to cancel the Commissioner Election scheduled for May 3rd of this year. At the meeting, the attorney for the Joint Board explained to the public a chain of events that left them with little choice other than cancellation:
As you folks may all be aware of, irrigation districts are basically special purpose districts under Montana Law, and they are subject to Montana election requirements. In Montana, private property owners whether they be corporations, individuals, etc. all have the constitutional right to vote, and the right to vote in your district elections.
In this upcoming irrigation election for districts, Lake County this year I guess, undertook a different reading of the statute 85-7-1710, and that statute relates to qualifications of electors and the nature of voting rights. Now there were a number of changes in 2015 during the legislative session that pertain to the election laws, but there have not been any changes to this law since 2013.
In sum, the county took the position that entities such as corporations, partnerships, trusts, LLC’s, any type of entities of those natures must execute affidavits or proxies that demonstrate that the agent that is voting has the authority to do so.
Generally under Montana law the election administrators are responsible for administration of the procedures related to registration of the voters and the conduct of the election. We understand that these affidavits were placed on the county website at some point in time. But there was no further notice actually provided to electors regarding that change and that requirement.
Also what we’ve learned this week, was that the county determined not to mail out ballots to these entities, unless or until they receive an executed affidavit back from the elector. And we understand that this translated in essence to about 100 ballots not being mailed out to voters, actually it was 800. So 800 ballots did not get mailed out.
There is no authority under the statute to withhold those ballots, under these circumstances or otherwise. Our office and the board recently learned that these electors have not received their ballots and the county confirmed yesterday that the ballots had not been mailed out at the same time as the ballots were mailed to the individual property owners.
Now that creates a pretty significant problem because under Montana law, all ballots must be mailed to electors on the same day. It’s a statutory requirement, MCA 13-19-207-2, and that didn’t happen here. Further under Montana law, ballots for special purpose districts, such as the irrigation district here, have to be mailed no sooner than 20 days and no later than 15 days before the election date, which this year is May 3rd. So in doing the math, we are at less than 15 days from the date of election right now, without those ballots having been mailed out.
Montana allows the governing body or the board to cancel the election for any reason specified in law. It also requires that elections for special purpose districts to fill a special purpose district office must be held on the regular day as the school election which Montana law defines as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May.
We undertook a review of this and the statutes are clear on their face. With that, we walked through this analysis and the statutes yesterday with Lake County attorney Wally Condon, who concurred that our only viable option at this point is to cancel the election. We’ve got nearly 800 voters here that are being deprived of their right to vote in this election. Montana law requires you to mail them out on the same day, that did not happen, and it also requires that they be mailed between the 15 and 20 day time frame and it is physically impossible at this time to accomplish that so based upon our review, concurred with by Lake County attorney Condon, it is our opinion that the only practical option is for this board to cancel the election.
The Joint Board of Control is now in the process of considering its options for the fall out of this mess, including the costs associated with the cancelled election and the their next steps with respect to commissioner positions that were to be part of this election cycle.
During the discussion that followed, it was also noted that the 2015 elections were also compromised because the county did not mail ballots to “out of state” owners of property served by the project during that election, again without notification to the electors.
We will update you as soon as we know more about the board’s plan going forward. You can also visit their website for information concerning this issue.
UPDATE: THIS JUST IN FROM THE FJBC:
Attention Irrigators and Interested Public.
In a 9 to 2 vote on April 21, 2016, the Commissioners of the Flathead Joint Board of Control of the Mission, Jocko and Flathead Irrigation District(s) voted by majority to cancel the current Irrigation District Election due to unintentional but verified violations of Montana State Election Law by the Lake County Elections Office (Polson, Montana) and partnering departments.
The FJBC Commissioners and Legal Counsel will continue to work with Lake County (Polson, Montana) Officials to review options for possible rescheduling if allowed by Montana Law.
The FJBC Commissioners recommend that those irrigated, fee-land parcels required to complete designation of voter documentation provided by the Lake County Elections Office (Trust, Corporation, LLC, Multi-party Ownership) complete and submit as previously requested. Completion of such documentation will expedite the voting process if and when rescheduled.
Our office will continue to provide updates as additional information is obtained. Please ensure that you have subscribed for email correspondence and update through our website. Thank you for your kind attention and patience in this matter.