Opinion by Jeni Dodd
At the December 15 Cascade County Commissioner special meeting, we learned the latest Banana Republic move by the commission — one that should be memorialized in county history as ‘Bucketgate’.
The special meeting’s agenda revolved around the commission’s previous 2-1 decision to pass Resolution 23-62 on December 13. That resolution removed election duties from Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant, who took office in January 2023, and allows the commission to appoint a non-elected elections administration of their liking. Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson voted in favor, Commissioner Rae Grulkowski against.
Briggs, aka wannabe lord of the Cascade County fiefdom, spearheaded the change to an appointed elections administrator, which he touts as less partisan. Yes, but timing is everything and this change came less than a month before candidate registration opens on January 11 for the June 2024 primary.
Briggs claims he’d been considering idea of an appointed election administrator for some time, but it seems evident that he doubled down on making the change only after Rina Fontana-Moore was ousted from the Clerk/Recorder/election administration position. If she had she won again, I opine there would still be a Clerk and Recorder with election duties.
But back to the special commission meeting and more relevantly, the aforementioned bucket. In a discussion that could be paraphrased as — “we stripped election duties from the clerk and recorder and now we have no plan” — we learned that a county maintenance worker removed a bucket of keys from the elections office. The bucket contained the keys to Expo Park where the voting tabulator machine is stored, and now, there’s no accounting for the keys.
Yep, you read that right. A voting tabulator machine that should be secured under lock and key at all times may not be secure. The keys have been unaccounted for, for days. So how can we be sure the machine hasn’t been, or won’t be, tampered with unless we inspect the machine and immediately change the locks?
Grulkowski raised the question about the keys, asking Briggs and Larson to identify who gave the directive to the maintenance department to take the bucket from the county election office.
“Something that did just land on my ears that is of concern is that there was a directive that the keys be taken from the elections office. I think the intent was to get keys from our former election administrator but they took a bucket of keys including keys for the security of the tabulator machine and I have no idea where they were and I did not know that directive was given. That was by our maintenance department so can I ask, who gave that directive? I was unaware of that,” Grulkowski stated.
Neither fessed up. Larson mumbled something not giving any direction other than asking for keys from the clerk and recorder.
Commissioner Grulkowski went on to state that an email was sent to the recently deposed election administrator (but still Clerk and Recorder) to turn in her keys to the elections office so she had left them at that office. But Grulkowski related that someone from maintenance went to the elections office and asked for all the keys.
“So they [elections office staff] gave them the bucket of keys that they had been trying to pick from whenever they needed something because that’s how it was left for them. There weren’t designated keys…and in there [the bucket] were the keys to ExpoPark, which houses our tabulator machine.”
So the current elections staff doesn’t have access to the tabulator machine and it appears unknown who might have access, now or in the future. Chain of custody for government property appears lax in the fiefdom.
The county maintenance supervisor later joined in on Zoom and stated he had told the maintenance worker only to collect the keys for the election office and the election storage. He claimed he had no idea why the maintenance worker would take the bucket of keys.
We also learned that not only did the county strip election duties from duly elected Clerk and Recorder Merchant, she was asked to give up key/keycard access to the County Annex building.
“I just don’t see where we would do that with any elected official,” said Grulkowski.
Although Briggs and Larson agreed the Clerk and Recorder should continue to have such access to the County Annex, it just seems like it could be yet another Banana Republic move. Why would anyone with the county move to restrict an elected official’s access to a building where much of the county’s business is conducted?
Grulkowski asked about the directive for this action, to which Briggs claimed that “it was nothing that was discussed in my presence; to go to that extreme” Hmm, “to that extreme.” Hmm, “discussed in my presence.”
In past opinion pieces, I’ve called those “wiggle words.” I think you get my drift.
Grulkowski also stated that maintenance staff have keys to the room where live ballots are stored. What? Wait, what? Why would they have access? In case of any emergency? No dice — get election staff to let you in, accompanied of course, or break the door down if need be — but keep our ballots secure. It was yet another mind-blowing revelation.
So how long have these Banana Republic antics been going on? This didn’t start in January. It appears to me it’s “the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Long-standing, questionably ethical and maybe questionably legal, policy decisions which newbies Merchant and Grulkowski didn’t get the memo on. Yep, the fiefdom which has been the status quo for Cascade County for many years — now being revealed in part by a bucket of keys to the kingdom.