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Paula Quits, Minion Also Quits, As Does Enabler

We learned of Paula Buff’s resignation with her email response line as we looked at planning the Trego school election:

From: Paula Buff <pbuff@libby.org>
Date: Mon, Mar 27, 2023 at 3:43 PM
Subject: Automatic reply: Express vote machine
To: Trego School <clerk@tregoschool.org>

I am no longer with Lincoln County. If you need assistance, please contact the County Commissioners.

Thanks.

Sometimes the news is incomplete – but more information is available at the Western News

There’s a lot that isn’t said in the article – but Paula, her minion Amanda, and the County Clerk Robin Benson all pulled the pin at the same time. That’s a somewhat unlikely cluster of events, so it’s probably a safe bet that there is a common motivation for Paula, her minion, and her boss all bailing at the same time – and that not because of commendations.

In a quote taken from the Tobacco Valley News, Robin Benson claimed, “Paula and Amanda have worked tirelessly and diligently for the county and all electors in Lincoln County and have run safe and secure elections. . . The hostility shown to Paula and Amanda, of course, is all under the guise of ‘election integrity.’” 

This description, from the Western News, may give us a spot for further research:

“Josh Letcher, first elected in 2018 and the current county Commissioner Chairperson, did not return phone calls by press time.

Tensions have been on the rise between Letcher, Benson and Buff over the last several months.”

“Additionally, Letcher also referenced a meeting about the post-election audit and asked Benson if she was able to properly supervise her employees while stating that Buff had falsified election documents and he felt he was ridiculed questioning this at a prior meeting.”

Western News

We started reporting on Paula’s choice not to follow Montana laws in running elections during the 2022 primary – specifically,

 13-10-211. Declaration of intent for write-in candidates. (1) Except as provided in subsection (7), a person seeking to become a write-in candidate for an office in any election shall file a declaration of intent. Except for a candidate under 13-38-201(4) or a candidate covered under 7-1-205, a candidate may not file for more than one public office. The declaration of intent must be filed with the secretary of state or election administrator, depending on where a declaration of nomination for the desired office is required to be filed under 13-10-201, or with the school district clerk for a school district office. When a county election administrator is conducting the election for a school district, the school district clerk or school district office that receives the declaration of intent shall notify the county election administrator of the filing. Except as provided in 13-1-403, 13-1-503, 20-3-305(3)(b), and subsection (2) of this section, the declaration must be filed no later than 5 p.m. on the 10th day before the earliest date established under 13-13-205 on which a ballot must be available and must contain:

Subsection (7) reads:

(7) Except as provided in 13-38-201(4)(b), the requirements in subsection (1) do not apply if:
(a) an election is held;
(b) a person’s name is written in on the ballot;
(c) the person is qualified for and seeks election to the office for which the person’s name was written in; and
(d) no other candidate has filed a declaration or petition for nomination or a declaration of intent.

MCA 44.3.2403, ends with:
“3) Consistent with 13-10-211, MCA, votes for undeclared write-in candidates may be counted if:
(a) an election is held;
(b) a person’s name is written in on the ballot;
(c) the person is qualified for and seeks election to the office for which the person’s name was written in; and
(d) no other candidate has filed a declaration or petition for nomination or a declaration of intent.”

The critical word is “may”.  Paula chose to interpret that as not requiring her to count write-in votes that are specifically exempted from filing under subsection 7.  By doing so, Paula made Lincoln County a one party county, and in her appointed position, made herself the single person determining how two elected positions would be filled.

So now, with Paula gone (along with her minion and her enabler), I have requested that the County Commissioners pass this following resolution:

“In Lincoln County, the word “may” in MCA 44.3.2403 shall be interpreted in the way that provides the maximum citizen involvement in the electoral process.  This will normally mean ‘shall’.”  This small word change provides for the most citizen involvement from now on without the personal interests of an election official overriding that constitutionally paramount interest.”  Personally I’d like to think of it as the memorial stone for Paula Buff’s record of public service.

If the commissioners agree, our next step will be getting our state representative and our state senator to introduce legislation that replaces the word ‘may’ in MCA 44.3.2403 3 with ‘shall’.  That single word empowered Paula to determine, single-handedly, who filled two elected positions.  We won’t get it changed in Helena this year – but it seems little to ask of our representative and our senator in the next legislative session.

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